by Stephen Johnson
Photo by Jeff Swensen
Over the past 70 years,
the Roman Catholic Church in
Pennsylvania has been systematically covering up child sexual abuse
by priests, according to a new report issued by a grand jury on
The report includes 1,000 identifiable victims, but the real number
is likely much higher, considering victims are often too afraid to
come forward and some church records have been destroyed or were
The cases detailed in the report include,
a priest who
collected child porn and would routinely play 'doctor' with
a young boy
a priest who
would befriend children's parents, get invited to stay the
night, then molest the children while their parents slept;
and incidents that "involved whips, chains, drugs and
Church leaders were aware
of the widespread abuse but covered it up or made insufficient
improvements, according to the grand jury.
institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have
largely escaped public accountability," the grand jury wrote.
"Priests were raping
little boys and girls, and the men of God who were
responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.
Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals
have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this
report, have been promoted."
The eight diocese of Pennsylvania.
six diocese investigated
other two were the subjects of previous grand juries),
grand jury documented 1,000 child abuse victims
hands of 300 priests.
just one state of 50.
The report emphasized the scale and ubiquity of the abuse.
"We, the members of
this grand jury, need you to hear this. We know some of you have
heard some of it before," the grand jury began its report.
"There have been
other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church.
But never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories
happened someplace else, someplace away.
Now we know the
truth: it happened everywhere."
The report shows how the church neglected to punish or report
priests whom it knew to be abusers, choosing instead to relocate
them to different parishes or other facilities.
'Health leave,' for example, is a euphemism for time in a church-run
treatment facility after a sexual abuse scandal.
Catholic Church sexual abuse
grand jury report
The grand jury reports:
"while in treatment,
Smith admitted to sexually molesting at least fifteen children.
Smith stated that all
of his victims were boys, some as young as seven. Smith had
raped them anally and orally. This information was provided to
[Bishop] Murphy in November 1987.
That same month,
Smith was discharged from the facility."
Father Thomas Smith
was reassigned to different parishes over and over again until his
retirement in 2002.
The grand jury suggests the abuse and its cover-up by the church is
It's far from the first report to expose the systemic abuse and
cover-up of child sexual abuse in the church.
The most famous and
wide-reaching report in recent history came from the Boston Globe's
Spotlight team, which in 2002 unveiled the systemic child abuse and
cover-ups within the Archdiocese of Boston.
So, why does
the Catholic Church's endemic abuse persist?
One reason seems to be a culture of secrecy and blackmail that
emerges from celibacy rules.
The culture emerges like
Priests and bishops sometimes violate their vows of celibacy,
whether with men, women or children.
When other church leaders
discover these violations of celibacy, they would be able to use
that information as blackmail to discourage others from revealing
their own indiscretions.
Some say removing celibacy rules would be a major step in
eradicating systemic abuse in the Catholic Church.
"There are Catholics
who study the church and study the sexuality of the priesthood
who have been saying this for 20 and 30 years," Laurie
Goodstein, a religion correspondent for The New York Times, said
on The Daily podcast:
A Culture of Secrecy that Perpetuated
The new report, which
comes during a cultural moment when broader issues of power and
sexual abuse are being examined like never before, could usher in a
new era of scrutiny on the the Catholic Church.
"The Church has been
turning away those questions, has said 'those are not relevant,
that's not what we need to look at'," Goodstein said.
"But the people
calling for that to be examined - that's getting louder now than
I've ever heard it before."