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Report: PA Priests Abused 1,000+ Kids  08/15 06:09

   HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- A priest raped a 7-year-old girl while he was 
visiting her in the hospital after she'd had her tonsils removed. Another 
priest forced a 9-year-old boy into having oral sex, then rinsed out the boy's 
mouth with holy water. One boy was forced to say confession to the priest who 
sexually abused him.

   Those children are among the victims of roughly 300 Roman Catholic priests 
in Pennsylvania who molested more than 1,000 children --- and possibly many 
more --- since the 1940s, according to a sweeping state grand jury report 
released Tuesday that accused senior church officials, including a man who is 
now the archbishop of Washington, D.C., of systematically covering up 
complaints.

   The "real number" of abused children and abusive priests might be higher 
since some secret church records were lost and some victims never came forward, 
the grand jury said.

   While the grand jury said dioceses have established internal processes and 
seem to refer complaints to law enforcement more promptly, it suggested that 
important changes are lacking.

   "Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have 
largely escaped public accountability," the grand jury wrote in the roughly 
900-page report. "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."

   Top church officials have mostly been protected and many, including some 
named in the report, have been promoted, the grand jury said, concluding that 
"it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal."

   In nearly every case, prosecutors found that the statute of limitations has 
run out, meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed. More than 100 of the 
priests are dead. Many others are retired or have been dismissed from the 
priesthood or put on leave. Authorities charged just two, including a priest 
who has since pleaded guilty.

   Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the investigation is ongoing.

   The investigation of six of Pennsylvania's eight dioceses--- Allentown, 
Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton --- is the most extensive 
investigation of Catholic clergy abuse by any state, according to victim 
advocates. The dioceses represent about 1.7 million Catholics.

   Until now, there have been just nine investigations by a prosecutor or grand 
jury of a Catholic diocese or archdiocese in the United States, according to 
the Massachusetts-based research and advocacy organization, 
BishopAccountability.org.

   The Philadelphia archdiocese and the Johnstown-Altoona diocese were not 
included in the investigation because they have been the subject of three 
previous scathing grand jury investigations.

   The grand jury heard from dozens of witnesses and reviewed more than a 
half-million pages of internal diocesan documents, including reports by bishops 
to Vatican officials disclosing the details of abusive priests that they had 
not made public or reported to law enforcement.

   The grand jury concluded that a succession of Catholic bishops and other 
diocesan leaders tried to shield the church from bad publicity and financial 
liability. They failed to report accused clergy to police, used confidentiality 
agreements to silence victims and sent abusive priests to so-called "treatment 
facilities," which "laundered" the priests and "permitted hundreds of known 
offenders to return to ministry," the report said.

   The conspiracy of silence extended beyond church grounds: police or 
prosecutors sometimes did not investigate allegations out of deference to 
church officials or brushed off complaints as outside the statute of 
limitations, the grand jury said.

   Diocese leaders responded Tuesday by expressing sorrow for the victims, 
stressing how they've changed and unveiling, for the first time, a list of 
priests accused of some sort of sexual misconduct.

   James VanSickle of Pittsburgh, who testified he was sexually attacked in 
1981 by a priest in the Erie Diocese, called the report's release "a major 
victory to get our voice out there, to get our stories told."

   The report is still the subject of an ongoing legal battle, with redactions 
shielding the identities of some current and former clergy named in the report 
while the state Supreme Court weighs their arguments that its wrongful 
accusations against them violates their constitutional rights. It also is 
expected to spark another fight by victim advocates to win changes in state law 
that lawmakers have resisted.

   Its findings echoed many earlier church investigations around the country, 
describing widespread sexual abuse and church officials' concealment of it. 
U.S. bishops have acknowledged that more than 17,000 people nationwide have 
reported being molested by priests and others in the church.

   The report comes at a time of fresh scandal at the highest levels of the 
U.S. Catholic Church. Pope Francis last month stripped 88-year-old Cardinal 
Theodore McCarrick of his title amid allegations that McCarrick had for years 
sexually abused boys and committed sexual misconduct with adult seminarians.

   One senior American church official named in the grand jury report is 
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who leads the Washington archdiocese, for allegedly 
helping to protect abusive priests when he was Pittsburgh's bishop. Wuerl, who 
was bishop of the Pittsburgh diocese from 1988 to 2006, disputed the 
allegations.

   Terry McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org said the report did a good job 
of highlighting the two crimes of church sex abuse scandals: the abuse of a 
child and the cover up by church officials that allows the abuse to continue.

   "One thing this is going to do is put pressure on prosecutors elsewhere to 
take a look at what's going on in their neck of the woods," McKiernan said.


(KA)

 
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