Hundreds of priests were said to have molested more than 1,000 children — and possibly many more — since the 1940s, and senior church officials, including a man who is now the archbishop of Washington, D.C., allegedly covered up the abuse, according to a grand jury report released Tuesday.
The “real number” of abused children might be in the thousands since some secret church records were lost, and victims were afraid to come forward, the grand jury said.
The grand jury accused a Cardinal, who leads the Washington archdiocese, of helping to protect abusive priests when he was Pittsburgh’s bishop.
Most of the Pennsylvania victims were boys, but girls were abused, too, the report said.
The abuse ranged from groping and masturbation to anal, oral and vaginal rape. There are also accusations that child pornography floated around the church.
The report put the number of abusive clergy at more than 300. In nearly all of the cases, the statute of limitations has run out, meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed. More than 100 of the priests are dead, and many others are retired or have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave.
The grand jury said it found cases in which police or prosecutors learned of clergy sex abuse allegations but did not investigate out of deference to church officials.
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 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 grand jury probe was the most extensive investigation of Catholic clergy abuse by any state. U.S. bishops have acknowledged that more than 17,000 people nationwide have reported being molested by priests and others in the church.
Sexual abuse by priests or clergy members is now well known. When priests take advantage of their position and sexually abuse children, it is a heinous action that warrants both criminal punishment and civil liability. In many cases involving the Catholic Church, individuals in authority knew of abusers and failed to take appropriate action, as this case highlights. Sadly, abusers were given complete freedom to take advantage of adolescents for years, even decades.