It’s an unfathomably bad day for religion, but a better day to be an atheist, if you already are one. If you’re not already, the news coming out about the Catholic church (again) this week may be enough to flip you, if not just grip you.
A Pennsylvania grand jury has dropped a devastating 1,356 page report (pdf) that describes in excruciating detail the child sexual abuse that has occurred within the Pennsylvania Catholic church, perpetrated by over 300 “predator priests” in that state alone. The grand jury names each priest and has identified over a thousand credible child victims who endured abuse at the hands of the Church over a period of 70 years. Some of the victims are in their 80s now.
The Grand Jury concluded the actual number of victims is probably far greater, since they could only rely on accounts of victims who were wiling to come forward and report it and on records that still exist. Other records were likely lost, some accounts of abuse were probably never written down, many of the predator priests were rotated to stations outside Pennsylvania and likely additional incidents were never reported because the children and their families were too afraid to report them.
In compiling their report, the grand jury heard testimony from dozens of witnesses and examined a half-million pages of documents obtained directly from six dioceses covering 54 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
Formulaic cover up of the crimes by the Church
The Church used several tactics to cover up the crimes. Those writing the reports were told not to use words like “rape” and instead to substitute phrases like “inappropriate conduct” or “boundary issues.” The Church did not conduct genuine investigations using property trained personnel, and instead used fellow clergy members who asked inadequate questions. Abusive priests were sent to church-run psychiatric facilities for “evaluation” and “diagnoses.” When an abusive priest was removed from his position, his parishioners were lied to and told the absence was due to the priest’s “exhaustion” or that he was on “sick leave.”
Because the Church worked so hard to cover up these crimes, most of the incidents the grand jury found exceeded the statute of limitations, so only a small fraction of them can still be prosecuted. The grand jury felt helpless, and said their only remaining recourse to bring the extent of these injustices to public attention was to issue this report.
And they were extraordinarily emphatic about it.
Excerpts of the grand jury’s introduction:
We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this. We know some of you have heard 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…Most of the victims were boys; but there were girls too. Some were teens; many were prepubescent. Some were manipulated with alcohol or pornography. Some were made to masturbate their assailants, or were groped by them. Some were raped orally, some vaginally, some anally. But all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.
…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. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted. Until that changes, we think it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal…
…Grand jurors are just regular people who are randomly selected for service. We don’t get paid much, the hours are bad, and the work can be heartbreaking. What makes it worthwhile is knowing we can do some kind of justice. We spent 24 months dredging up the most depraved behavior, only to find that the laws protect most of its perpetrators, and leave its victims with nothing. We say laws that do that need to change.
The grand jury recommended making changes in the law that would make it easier for victims to come forward and for law enforcement to prosecute these crimes no matter when information about them emerges.
The worst stories stood out:
The grand jury also wrote (on Page 10 of the report):
Even out of these hundreds of odious stories, some stood out. There was the priest, for example, who raped a seven-yea -old girl — while he was visiting her in the hospital after she’d had her tonsils out. Or the priest who made a nine-year-old give him oral sex, then rinsed out the boy’s mouth with holy water to purify him. Or the boy who drank some juice at his priest’s house, and woke up the next morning bleeding from his rectum, unable to remember anything from the night before. Or the priest, a registered psychologist, who “treated” a young parishioner with depression by attempting to hypnotize her and directing her to take off her clothes, piece by piece. One priest was willing to admit to molesting boys, but denied reports from two girls who had been abused; “They don’t have a penis,” he explained. Another priest, asked about abusing his parishioners, refused to commit “with my history,” he said, “anything is possible.” Yet another priest finally decided to quit after years of child abuse complaints, but asked for, and received, a letter of reference for his next job – at Walt Disney World.
The report is astonishing, even for jaded people who think they’ve already heard everything they need to know about priests abusing kids. Everyone should at least take the time to read the introduction and page through the rest. Do it before you go back — or take your kids back — to church.