A Pennsylvania grand jury report released Tuesday details how the Catholic Church hierarchy systematically covered up sexual abuse across the northeastern state.
The over 1,300 page report describes in detail how 301 priests abused over 1,000 children over the past several decades and how the hierarchy shielded the perpetrators from accountability and covered up their crimes.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Attorney General Josh Shapiro recounted some of the horrors.
“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,” he said, explaining how one priest had molested five sisters in a single family.
Most of the victims, however, were boys.
The attorney general also noted how the predatory priests were allowed to be active in ministry for decades and how bishops repeatedly reassigned them to different parishes.
Here are 4 things you should know about the unfolding scandal.
1. The Details of Abuse Described in the Report
The types of atrocities that were visited upon young children were described in extensive, horrifying detail in the grand jury report.
Among the stories the document recounts is that of a priest who forced a boy to perform oral sex on him and then subsequently rinsed his mouth out with holy water in order to cleanse him. Another priest raped a seven-year-old girl while visiting her in hospital after she had undergone surgery to remove her tonsils.
Reports say Edward Graff, a now-retired priest who spent 35 years in the Allentown diocese, reportedly raped “scores” of young boys, one of whom was 7 years old and was brutalized such that he suffered spine injuries.
Other priests in Pennsylvania had children wear gold crosses in order to indicate which of them had been abused. In yet another case, a priest in Scranton raped a girl, impregnated her and arranged for her to have an abortion. The bishop wrote not to the girl but the priest who raped her, telling him: “This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.”
The Church also wrote a strong recommendation letter for another priest who quit after he had received several complaints about him being a child abuser to get another job at Walt Disney World.
2. Some Are Calling for Cardinal Wuerl to Resign, Lay Catholics Furious
Prominent and other famous Catholics are already calling Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington D.C., to resign. Wuerl was once the bishop of Pittsburgh and is named unfavorably in the grand jury report many times. As of Wednesday, Wuerl is maintaining that he has done nothing wrong.
“While I understand this report may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse. I sincerely hope that a just assessment of my actions, past and present, and my continuing commitment to the protection of children will dispel any notions otherwise made by this report,” the cardinal said in a statement Tuesday.
Actress Patricia Heaton, a Catholic, was outraged, tweeting that Pope Francis should remove Wuerl.
“The PA report is disgusting and stomach-churning. And mentioned more than 200 times is @Cardinal_Wuerl, who currently resides in his luxury DC penthouse. He is @Pontifex’s man in Washington, and only @Pontifex can get rid of him. Get to work, Francis,” she said.
The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney attended Mass Wednesday — on the Catholic Feast Day of the Assumption of Mary — over which Wuerl presided.
“He gave a statement at the beginning about the ‘stories’ we may have heard. It was handwaving and diversionary. Shameful,” he tweeted, disgusted.
When asked by commenters why he did not walk out, Carney responded that he was obligated to attend mass today but after the service walked up a local TV reporter who was waiting outside the church and called for Wuerl’s resignation.
3. The Scandal Comes After McCarrick Ouster, Sex Abuse Plague in Honduras, Chile
The news of what has been occurring in Pennsylvania comes just weeks after the former cardinal and archbishop of Washington D.C., Theodore McCarrick, 88, was stripped of his title.
Reports indicated that “credible and substantiated” evidence surfaced that McCarrick had sexually abused a boy in the 1970s. Several stories from Catholic seminarians sexually abused by McCarrick have also since emerged.
The Latin American nations of Chile and Honduras have also been rocked by sex scandals in the Catholic Church and its affiliated institutions.
In May, 31 Chilean bishops offered their resignation to the pope amid widespread sex abuse claims. Thus far, Francis has accepted the resignations of five of them. The Guardian reported Tuesday that authorities raided the headquarters of the Catholic church’s Episcopal Conference in Santiago as part of a ongoing investigation into sex abuse committed by members of the Marist Brothers order.
Last month Pope Francis also accepted the resignation of a senior Honduran Roman Catholic bishop, Juan Jose Pineda Fasquelle, of the Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa, amid allegations of financial and sexual impropriety.
4. Debate Swirling Again About Role of ‘Lavender Mafia’ Within Catholic Ranks
Among Orthodox Catholics, chatter about the “lavender mafia,” that is, homosexual networks within the church hierarchy, has started up again, with respected voices saying such networks exist and must be removed.
Writing on her Facebook page August 6, moral theologian Janet E. Smith, who is known for her defense of Humanae Vitae — Pope Paul VI’s encyclical rejecting contraception and other issues pertaining to human life — weighed in on the sexual abuse crises, arguing that people are mistaken to think that if a few people are fired everything will improve.
“The deeper problem is the presence of homosexual networks in the Church — likely in dioceses all over the world and certainly in the Curia. Yes, there are lots of other immoral behaviors — adultery, greed, luxuriousness, clericalism and substance abuse, for instance, that need to be addressed but first things first. Eradicating the homosexual networks from the Church would do a lot to purging the Church of immoral priests — and doing so should help us get at the other problems,” she said.
Smith told the The National Catholic Register Tuesday that she is convinced such networks are present in almost every diocese and control some dioceses, and that it must the “highest priority” for bishops to eradicate them.
Father D. Paul Sullins, an ordained priest and retired professor of sociology at the Catholic University of America, concurs that a homosexual subculture is partly to blame for much of the abuse, noting in an interview with The Ruth Institute Saturday that the recent swirl around McCarrick is mostly about abuse of adult male seminarians. Those types of cases were “not even considered in the responses to the 2002 [Catholic church sex abuse] scandal, which was about the criminal abuse of minors,” he said.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned two separate reports about the 2002 scandals, both of which found that “over 80% of the victims were neither girls, nor pre-pubescent children (true pedophilia), but pre-teen and teenage boys. These results clearly indicate that the problem was male on male predation by priests against under-aged boys.”
Follow Brandon Showalter on Twitter: @BrandonMShow