Pennsylvania grand jury finds widespread sex abuse by priests

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The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona, Pa. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bossi/Creative Commons

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona, Pa. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bossi/Creative Commons

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona, Pa. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bossi/Creative Commons

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Hundreds of children in western Pennsylvania were sexually assaulted by about 50 Roman Catholic priests over four decades while bishops covered up their actions, according to a state grand jury report released on Tuesday.

The report found that former Bishop James Hogan, who died in 2005, and his successor, Joseph Adamec, who retired in 2011, worked to cover pedophile priests’ tracks and that some local law enforcement agencies also avoided investigating abuse allegations, said state Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

“The heinous crimes these children endured are absolutely unconscionable,” Kane told reporters in unveiling the report, based on a two-year investigation. “These predators desecrated a sacred trust and preyed upon their victims in the very places where they should have felt most safe.”

Revelations that some priests had habitually sexually abused children and that bishops had systematically covered up those crimes burst onto the world stage in 2002 when The Boston Globe reported widespread abuse in the Boston Archdiocese.

RELATED STORY: Cardinal George Pell admits ‘indefensible’ errors in abuse crisis

That report, which won a Pulitzer Prize and was the subject of last year’s Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight,” set off a global wave of investigations that found similar patterns at dioceses around the world. They led to hefty lawsuits and seriously undermined the church’s moral authority.

No criminal charges will be filed because the alleged incidents are too old to be prosecuted, Kane said.

Advocates for victims of sex assault have long urged lawmakers to give prosecutors more time to bring charges of sex assaults of minors, noting that particularly in the case of assaults by members of the clergy, victims can take years to come forward.

The report contains explicit details of scores of attacks, naming perpetrators, many of whom have since died. Many of the surviving priests were still serving parishes at the time the investigation began, Kane said, but all have since been removed by the current bishop.

“This is a painful and difficult time,” current Altoona-Johnstown Bishop Mark Bartchak said in a statement. “I deeply regret any harm that has come to children.”

“We’re saddened but not the least bit surprised,” said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “It proves what we’ve long maintained: that even now, under the guise of ‘reform,’ bishops continue to deceive parishioners and the public about their ongoing efforts to hide abuse.”

Adamec, the retired bishop, did not respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by David DeKok)

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  • Ben in Oakland

    And what exactly is the news here? Oh, yes! Same show. New location.

    Many current allegations about predatory priests date to the ’70’s. Historian Karen Liebreich wrote “Fallen Order”, concerning sexual abuse scandals and the too-familiar coverups by ecclesiastical authorities in the Piarist Order nearly 400 years ago. Further evidence is found in Boccaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

    About 1050, St. Peter Damien wrote a scathing treatise addressed to Pope Leo IX, Liber Gomorrhianus, concerning the clergy’s vices, which included sexual abuse of minors and Church superiors hiding the crimes.

    All of this exposes the moral vacuity– putting it mildly– of the Church, with molesting or abusing priests getting a pass from the church hierarchy, whose own sins are increasingly publicly known. Remember disgraced Cardinal O’Brien of England? Or Nuncio Josef Wesołowski of Poland? How convenient he died. I wonder if he’s buried in consecrated ground.

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  • mahrt

    The situation in appalling and there is much blame to go around; still it is not quite accurate simply to call the bishops’ actions “cover-up.” They were convinced that treatment in a psychological institution would be a cure, and they were assured by those institutions that this was true; it has only since then that it has become so clear that such problems were incurable.

  • Michael Glass

    The problem of clerical sexual abuse is world-wide. I think the church has now lost all authority to talk about people’s morals.

  • Something of note in this report, unlike some others, is the clear complicity of local secular officials, particularly in law enforcement. Although the RC Church and its hierarchs are justifiably reviled because of the priestly-pedophilia scandal, the blame doesn’t end there. People outside of the Church itself purposely granted the Church the latitude to get away with all of this. In this case, local law enforcement did the bidding of the diocese’s hired goon, Msgr Philip Saylor. In Johnstown, he interviewed candidates for fire chief and sheriff, and told the mayor whom to hire.

    The Church has, historically, been granted far too much deference. It’s long past time they were brought to heel. And that includes those who were in their pay and subverted their own jobs in an effort to please their bishops. What cowards.

  • patrick

    @ Ben in Oakland….

    Let’s not forget that the Church’s sexual abuse and corruption come right from the top – the Popes.

    For starters I would suggest Arthur Frederick Ide’s book:

    UNZIPPED – the Popes Bare All – A Frank Study of Sex and Corruption in the Vatican

  • Leon

    I totally agree, these are demons that people support with their money and hearts. It’s time for these believers to wake up and smell the coffee.

  • Dennis Stewart

    Smoked by Satan.

  • Amen, and in brutal defiance of Jesus in Matt 18:6-14.

  • Really.

    Then why didn’t they tell people at the new parish that this was a “cured pedophile”?

    Because no one in human history would let children around a “cured” pedophile.

    This is just another excuse. They reassigned Fr Geoghan dozens of times, “curing” him every time, as he went on to rape 130 people.

  • patrick

    As much as I enjoy and am informed by RNS, it has grossly glossed over this story.

    For an in-depth report, I recommend the following :