Harrisburg : A priest raped a 7-year-old girl while he was visiting her in the hospital after she’d had her tonsils removed.
Another priest forced a 9-year-old boy into having oral sex, then rinsed out the boy’s mouth with holy water. One boy was forced to say confession to the priest who sexually abused him.
Those children are among the victims of roughly 300 Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania who molested more than 1,000 children — and possibly many more — since the 1940s, according to a sweeping state grand jury report released on Tuesday that accused senior church officials, including a man who is now the archbishop of Washington, DC, of systematically covering up complaints.
The “real number” of abused children and abusive priests might be higher since some secret church records were lost and some victims never came forward, the grand jury said.
Top officials protected, as grand jury says it is too early to close book on Catholic Church sex scandal
While the grand jury said dioceses have established internal processes and seem to refer complaints to law enforcement more promptly, it suggested that important changes are lacking.
“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” the grand jury wrote in the roughly 900-page report.
“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.”
Top church officials have mostly been protected and many, including some named in the report, have been promoted, the grand jury said, concluding that “it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal.”
In nearly every case, prosecutors found that the statute of limitations has run out, meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed. More than 100 of the priests are dead. Many others are retired or have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave. Authorities charged just two, including a priest who has since pleaded guilty. Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the investigation is ongoing.
The investigation of six of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses — Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton — is the most extensive investigation of Catholic clergy abuse by any state, according to victim advocates. The dioceses represent about 1.7 million Catholics.
Until now, there have been just nine investigations by a prosecutor or grand jury of a Catholic diocese or archdiocese in the United States, according to the Massachusetts-based research and advocacy organisation, BishopAccountability.org.
The Philadelphia archdiocese and the Johnstown-Altoona diocese were not included in the investigation as they have been the subject of three previous scathing grand jury investigations.
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.
The grand jury concluded that a succession of Catholic bishops and other diocesan leaders tried to shield the church from bad publicity and financial liability.
Of the 300 priests, over 100 are dead. Many others retired or were dismissed from priesthood or put on leave. Authorities charged just two, including a priest, who has since pleaded guilty.