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"We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this. We know some of you have heard some of it before. There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church. But never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere."
Thus begins a Pennsylvania grand jury report into sexual abuse allegations in six of the eight Catholic dioceses in the state, covering over three hundred "predator priests" and a number of child victims estimated in the thousands. The "Appendix of Offenders" section of the report runs over 550 pages alone. It is a massive report, detailing decades of abuse and coverups.
The report not only details the extent of the abuse, but of the coverup as well. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said victims were groomed for abuse and singled out by certain gifts. "To make it easier to target their victims, the priests gave their favored boys gifts -- gold crosses to wear as necklaces," Shapiro said during a news conference following the release of the report. "The crosses were markings of which boys had been groomed for abuse."
And the concealment was as meticulous as the crimes. According to the grand jury:
"All victims were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all. The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid scandal."
"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."
"Diocesan administrators, including the Bishops, had knowledge of this conduct and yet priests were regularly placed in ministry after the Diocese was on notice that a complaint of child sexual abuse had been made. This conduct enabled offenders and endangered the welfare of children."
As extensive as the report is, it may still be incomplete. Some names and references have been redacted while about two dozen current and former clergy members challenge the public release of their information. And even if those redactions are removed, there are likely both offenders and victims the investigation couldn't find. "We should emphasize that, while the list of priests is long, we don't think we got them all," the grand jury concluded. "We feel certain that many victims never came forward, and that the dioceses did not create written records every single time they heard something about abuse."
The grand jury did issue some recommendations as part of its report, among them that the criminal statute of limitations on child sexual abuse should be removed, and creating a window for civil lawsuits from victims. They also wanted clearer mandatory reporting requirements for child abuse and prohibitions on non-disclosure agreements that prevent cooperation with law enforcement.
Shapiro said his office will continue to fight for the release of the redacted portions of the report, saying each one of those redactions represents a story of abuse that deserves to be told.
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