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Vatican expresses "shame and sorrow" over Pennsylvania coverup

Pope Francis sitting at a mic but not talking
Photo: Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis via Getty Images

Following the revelation that hundreds of Catholic priests in Pennsylvania had sexually abused more than 1,000 children over decades, the Vatican did not comment for 2 days and at least one bishop has denied that there was a coverup.

Why it matters: In a detailed report, the Pennsylvania grand jury not only uncovered a series of abusive behavior by priests, many of whom have since died or left the ministry, but also ongoing efforts by those in authority to belittle and cover up these incidents.

The bottom line: While many clergymen have expressed their disappointment with the church and sympathy for the victims, most have also stressed the fact that the abuse happened years ago, defended the church's current protection of children and pointed out where they see inaccuracies in the report. Few have addressed the culture of secrecy that allowed abuse to continue, often unchecked.

Key quote from the grand jury: "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. For decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted."

The response:

  • The Vatican's press office originally said they had no comment, but on Thursday afternoon released the statement, "There are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow," according to Fox News.
  • Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh said in a conference that “there was no cover-up going on. I think that it’s important to be able to state that. We have over the course of the last 30 years, for sure, been transparent about everything that has in fact been transpiring,” according to the New York Times.
  • Bishop Edward C. Malesic of Greensburg said in his homily that he is "ashamed by what some of our priests did in the past," and that the fact that some known child abusers became bishops “is a cause of shame for us.” He later added that "the grand jury report describes the church of 30, 50, even more than 70 years ago... It does not paint an accurate picture of the church in which we pray and find comfort today.”
  • Chancellor and General Counsel Kim Viti Fiorentino of the Archdiocese of Washington said in an interview with the Catholic Standard that the revelations have "profoundly saddened us, and are causing us to reflect on whether more could have been done." But she also suggested the report had been overblown without context, pointing out that more than 5,000 priests served in Pennsylvania during the time the report was being produced. She also described the investigative process as "flawed."
  • Bishop Alfred A. Schlert of Allentown wrote a letter to his parishioners apologizing for "the past sins and crimes committed by some of the members of the clergy": "Abuse is abhorrent and has no place in the Church, or anywhere in society. Most of the incidents date back decades. The offending priests are no longer in active ministry, are laicized (defrocked), or are deceased," Schlert wrote.

Go deeper: The grand jury’s horrifying Catholic coverup report

Editor's note: This story was updated following the release of the Vatican's statement, which came after the original article was published.

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