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Go deeper: Grand jury’s horrifying Catholic coverup report

A priest stands before a congregation.
Catholic mass. Photo: Godong/UIG via Getty Images

A report totaling almost 1,400 pages released on Tuesday detailing the egregious abuse of children in Pennsylvania's Catholic clergy at the hands of priests, also reveals how the church has covered up such allegations for all this time.

Why it matters: This is not the first of its kind — remember the 2002 bombshell Boston Globe investigation — and based on the sheer volume of Tuesday's report, there are no doubt hundreds of other cases that have yet to be uncovered around the country and world. The language and methods used by the Church are detailed in the Grand Jury's report, and illuminate the strategies behind keeping such a scandal hidden from the public.

How they did it

These practices of confidentiality were made clear by FBI agents at the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime who were assigned to review the evidence and found that:

  • Euphemisms were used to describe sexual assaults: "Never say 'rape'; say 'inappropriate contact' or 'boundary issues.'"
  • Investigations were carried out by fellow clergy members, who were instructed to "ask inadequate questions and then make credibility determinations" about their colleagues, with whom they lived and worked.
  • Clergy members were sent to church-run psychiatric treatment facilities "for an appearance of integrity." There, it would be determined if they were a pedophile "based largely on the priest's 'self-reports,' and regardless of whether the priest had actually engaged in sexual contact with a child."
  • A priest's removal was explained to his fellow clergymen as him being "sick" or having "nervous exhaustion."
  • Priests found to be have raped children continued to be provided with housing and living expenses.
  • If the community became aware of a priest's abuse, the priest was simply moved to another location where people were not aware of his past, instead of being removed from the priesthood.
  • Child sex abuse was handled "'in house,'" and not treated like an actual crime.

The report also explains how at times, law enforcement did become aware of abuse or allegations of abuse, and "simply deferred to church officials."

The history of abuse

  • In the Diocese of Erie, the bishop met with a priest who confessed to anal and oral rape "of at least 15 boys, as young as seven years old." The bishop later called him "a person of candor and sincerity," and congratulated him on "the progress he has made" in handling his "addiction."
  • In the Diocese of Harrisburg, five sisters in one family were abused by the same priest. The priest "collected samples of the girls' urine, pubic hair, and menstrual blood." His "collection" was found, but the diocese "remained unwilling" to confront the priest.
  • In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, a priest's abuse was dismissed because he said he was "literally seduced" by a 15-year-old boy. The church's evaluation which was submitted to the court said that the priest "had admitted to 'sado-masochistic' activities with several boys — but the sado-masochism was only 'mild,' and at least the priest was not 'psychotic.'"
  • In the Diocese of Scranton, the bishop wrote a letter to a priest who raped a girl, got her pregnant, and arranged for her to have an abortion. The bishop said to the priest: "This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief."

What's next

The Grand Jury is asking the Pennsylvania legislature to remove the statute of limitations on these cases: "[W]e want future child predators to know they should always be looking over their shoulder - no matter how long they live."

  • They're calling for a "civil window" law, which would open more time for child sex abuse victims to pursue legal action against the diocese.
  • The Grand Jury is also calling for abuse reporting guidelines to be "tighter," and to make it clear there's a "duty to report a child abuser...as long as there's reason to believe he will do it again."

The big picture

"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... Until that changes, we think it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal."
— The Grand Jury in its report on Tuesday

Read the full report here.