Church report: 1,000 child victims in Pennsylvania

Priests in church

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About 25 percent of Pennsylvanians identify as Catholic.

Several hundred Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania were accused of sexually abusing more than a thousand children, a grand jury report on Tuesday said, in an alleged "cover-up" described as "sophisticated" by the state's attorney general.

Representatives of the six Pennsylvania dioceses included in the report could not be reached for comment.

The report echoes the findings of many earlier church investigations around the country in its description of widespread sexual abuse by clergy and church officials' concealment of it.

The grand jury heard from dozens of witnesses and reviewed more than a half-million pages of internal diocesan documents, including reports by bishops to Vatican officials disclosing the details of abusive priests that they had not made public or reported to law enforcement.

It said the jury believed that the real number of children abused over decades in six Pennsylvania diocese from the mid-1950s may be in the thousands. The effort resulted in criminal charges against several members of the church. In total, 41 priests in Erie, 37 priests in Allentown, 20 priests in Greensburg, 45 priests in Harrisburg, 59 priests in Scranton, and 99 priests in Pittsburgh were named in the report.

The report is made up of years' worth of testimony but also numerous church's own records, files known to priests as the "secret archives", where accusations of abuse were kept and hidden away until now.

"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", said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. "For decades", Shapiro said.

Hannon, the priest in the Pennsylvania report, died in 2006 "in the good graces" of the church. Only two of the priests are still subject to prosecution.

The state Supreme Court had set a Tuesday deadline to publicly release a redacted version of the roughly 900-page report.

Rather than handle sexual abuse as a crime, the dioceses handled it as a personnel matter "in house", the grand jury said. "There is no priest or deacon in an assignment today against whom there was a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse", Zubik said Friday, implying that those facing unsubstantiated claims may still serve. The diocese settled with the family after requiring a confidentiality agreement, he said.

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The cardinal said that the experience of meeting with victims of abuse "urged me to develop quickly a "zero tolerance" policy for clergy who committed such abuse", and that he put in place procedures to ensure allegations were addressed "fairly and forthrightly".

The Attorney General's Office said the Diocese of Erie knew about Poulson's "sexual predator tendencies" since at least May 2010 but did nothing to report him to authorities until September 2016 in response to a grand jury subpoena.

"We should emphasize that, while the list of priests is long, we don't think we got them all", the report reads. But after they softened their judgment the next year, saying Kryston did not demonstrate ephebophilia, a sexual attraction to adolescents, but should still not be in ministry with teenage students, Wuerl assigned the priest to a parish. Some are accused of being in possession of child pornography, others of inappropriate touching, kissing, soliciting a child for sex, but most are listed as "sexually abusing a child".

A priest raped a 7-year-old girl while he was visiting her in the hospital after she'd had her tonsils removed. Another child drank juice, only to wake up the next morning bleeding from his rectum and unable to remember what had happened. A boy, 9, was forced to perform a sex act and then had his mouth washed out with holy water.

Since the Boston abuse scandal erupted in the 1990s, accusations involving American clerics have sporadically surfaced.

Not all who are accused of sexual abuse or of covering it up in the report are priests.

In Erie, the Rev. David Poulson awaits trial on charges of sexually abusing two boys over many years.

The group has documented settlements for 5,679 alleged victims of Catholic clergy - only a third of 15,235 allegations that bishops say they have received through 2009.

"We are focused on re-establishing trust among all those who rely on the Catholic Church for help, for spiritual guidance, and for strength", Schlert wrote, asking those in his diocese to "join me as we pray for victims and survivors of these reprehensible acts".

Sexual abuse scandals have rocked the Roman Catholic Church for decades, not just in the US but throughout the world. That story was turned into Oscar-winning Hollywood movie, Spotlight, starring Michael Keaton.

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