Following the release of a report this week by a statewide grand jury in Pennsylvania, which details decades of sexual abuse of minors and adults allegedly committed by Roman Catholic clerics, William Donohue of the Catholic League urged caution on the part of public. Donohue, who is an outspoken defender of the Church and its rights within the law, noted that some in legacy media are claiming that the report names “more than 300 predator priests.” The report alleges widespread sexual abuse of children and systematic coverups by church hierarchy.
Donohue commented “Many of those named are not priests: the list includes lay persons, deacons, and seminarians.” Because many of them are now deceased, Donohue noted that they cannot challenge the accusations. “Even among the living, most have not had an opportunity to rebut the accusations. In most cases there has been no attempt by the dioceses, or the grand jury, to verify the accusations,” which extend to the World War II era.
Donohue said in a statement that fair-minded people want the guilty to pay, but also due process for the accused. “In this crazed #MeToo environment, that is not easy, and this is doubly true when the accused are Catholic priests.” He predicted that a report on sexual abuse of minors in public schools, or by members of the clergy of other faiths, “will never happen.” Moreover, Donohue contended, “This is akin to doing an investigation of crime in low-income minority neighborhoods, allowing white-collar crimes committed in the suburbs to go scot-free, and then concluding non-whites to be criminally prone. It is a scam.”
The report opens with the following statement:
“We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this. We know some of you have head 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.”
It cites 301 priests, clergy and laity, of which there are 99 in the Diocese of Pittsburgh alone. According to state attorney general Josh Shapiro (D), of the 99 in Pittsburgh, there was a group of four who groomed and sexually assaulted boys. “One boy was forced to stand on a bed in a rectory, strip naked and pose as Christ on the cross for the priests. They took photos of their victim, adding them to a collection of child pornography which they produced and shared on church grounds,” Shapiro said.
“To make it easier to target their victims, the priests gave their favored boys gifts – gold crosses to wear as necklaces. The crosses were markings of which boys had been groomed for abuse,” Shapiro said.
Because of an on-going lawsuits against alleged perpetrators and their estates, more than a dozen names and identifying information have been redacted from the report. However, observers say that the report shows a pattern of bishops having prior knowledge of the predatory behavior of the accused. However, the bishops reassigned the alleged perpetrators without alerting law enforcement authorities. Shapiro said he is not satisfied with the release of the redacted report while claiming that each one of the redactions masks a history of abuse that should come to light. He said that he will continue to demand that the names be revealed. According to the report, “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.” The report says administrators and bishops “often dissuaded victims from reporting abuse to police, pressured law enforcement to terminate or avoid an investigation, or conducted their own deficient, biased investigations without reporting crimes against children to the proper authorities.” Shapiro said, “Above all else, they protected their institution at all cost.”
In advance of the release of the report, more than two dozen people, including current and former members of the clergy, challenged the report with the claim that they are being “wrongly accused and falsely implicated.” One of the challengers is the executrix of the estate of a deceased person who is named by the grand jury. The challengers claimed that the report is full of “inaccuracies and falsities” and alleged that the supervising judge of statewide grand jury failed to ensure the report was based on at least a “preponderance of evidence.” In July, state attorney general Shapiro said, “The report is accurate and these individuals have had the chance to respond, and their responses will be included in the final grand jury report.,” He said, “This legal filing is nothing more than a desperate attempt to stop the public from learning the truth about their abhorrent conduct.”
However, the challengers say that they have been “defamed” and are guilty of nothing “that warrants ... branding them as offenders.” They assert that by identifying them in the report, the judge and jury are denying them their constitutional right to due process in defending their reputations.
The grand jury report was based on a two-year investigation overseen by Shapiro’s office and covered alleged sexual abuse in the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Erie, Harrisburg, Allentown and Scranton.