Roman Catholic priests in northeastern US state sexually abused thousands of children over a 70-year period and silenced victims through "the weaponisation of faith", says a report made public by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
A sweeping grand jury report uncovered credible allegations on Tuesday against more than 300 predator priests and identified over 1,000 victims of child sex abuse covered-up for decades by the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania through "the weaponisation of faith".
The Pennsylvania report covers 70 years of abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests and how the church sought to cover-up the accusations.
It follows a nearly two-year-long investigation by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
The report is thought to be the most comprehensive to date into abuse in the US church, but while prosecutors have filed charges against two priests, the vast majority of crimes happened too long ago to prosecute under current laws.
The report said testimony from dozens of witnesses and half a million pages of internal church documents contained credible allegations against more than 300 "predator priests" and more than 1,000 child victims were identifiable.
Grand Jury: “We need you to hear this. There have been other reports about child sex abuse w/in the Church. But never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.”— AG Josh Shapiro (@PAAttorneyGen) August 14, 2018
But the real number was "in the thousands," the grand jury estimated following an exhaustive, two-year investigation, given those children whose records were lost or who were afraid to come forward.
Some of those accused have tried to stop the release of the report, saying it would unfairly damage their reputations, but prosecutors, abuse advocates and news organisations pushed for its release.
Last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed the report to go ahead, but with at least some names redacted.
The President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Chairman for the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People have issued the following statement in response to findings outlined in today’s Pennsylvania grand jury report: https://t.co/getr725jFX pic.twitter.com/DOvTNjLVFi— US Catholic Bishops (@USCCB) August 14, 2018
Victims of sexual abuse
One cleric raped a seven-year-old girl in hospital after she had her tonsils out, the report said. Another child drank juice, only to wake up the next morning bleeding from his rectum and unable to remember what had happened.
The vast majority of victims were boys and many were pre-pubescent, some manipulated with alcohol or pornography, and some were raped and groped, the report summarised. Many of the priests are dead.
So far only two new priests are being charged with crimes that fall within the statute of limitations. One allegedly ejaculated in the mouth of a seven-year-old and the other assaulted two boys for years until 2010.
"The pattern was abuse, deny and cover-up. The effect, not only victimised children, it served a legal purpose that church officials manipulated for their advantage," Pennsylvania Attorney General Shapiro told reporters.
'Hid it all'
"As a direct consequence of the systematic cover-up by senior church officials almost every instance of child sexual abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted."
The grand jury called for changes in the law that would scrap the statute of limitations for child sex abuse, give victims more time to file civil lawsuits and tighten legislation compelling people to report abuse they find out about.
"Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability," the report said.
"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."
This is the exact same argument the bishops and cardinals made to justify the coverup. We must reject the idea that it's the bad press--rather than the abuse and coverup itself--that harms the Catholic Church. Exposing this evil and purging it will only help. https://t.co/W9sB6bQS7B— Jeremy McLellan (@JeremyMcLellan) August 14, 2018
Between 5,700 and 10,000 Catholic priests have been accused of sexual abuse in the United States, but only a few hundred have been tried, convicted, and sentenced for their crimes, according to the watchdog Bishop Accountability.
Since the abuse crisis became public in the 2000s, the US church has spent more than $3 billion in settlements, according to Bishop Accountability.
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. One estimate suggests up there were 100,000 US victims.
A grand jury investigation into the Pennsylvania diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, one of those omitted in Tuesday's report, revealed in 2016 that two bishops spent four decades covering-up sexual abuse of hundreds of children.