Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said his office has evidence that the Vatican knew about the cover-up of clergy abuse in the Catholic Church, but said he couldn't verify whether Pope Francis had direct knowledge of the crimes by priests.
Shapiro told NBC's "Today" show during an interview Tuesday that the grand jury unearthed handwritten notes detailing the abuse stored in secret archives. He said clergymen were compelled by Cardinal Law to document "all of it," calling the policy "inexplicable."
"Church leaders would lie to parishioners on Sunday, they would lie to the public, they would shield these predators from the public but they would document all of it and place it in these secret archives, feet away from the bishops," Shapiro said.
The grand jury report, which took two years to investigate, found the church had covered up decades of child molestation by priests in six dioceses. Lurid details released throughout more than 1,300 pages include rape, abortions, confessions and cover-ups.
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The grand jury heard allegations against more than 300 clergy members, according to the report. Most of the victims were boys. Some were teens, while others were prepubescent. Several alleged victims were lured with alcohol or pornography. Afterward, they turned to substance abuse and even suicide to escape the lingering trauma.
All told, more than 1,000 victims were identified from the church's own records and there could be thousands more, the grand jurors concluded.
Shapiro told "Today" co-host Savannah Gutherie that since the report was made public, more than 700 calls have poured into a clergy abuse hotline.
"It’s horrifying to think what these men of God did to these children and then to have the cover-up that was quite literally purposeful to shield priests from law enforcement," Shapiro said, adding that priests where passed around from church to church to run the clock out on the statue of limitations for convictions.
In Pennsylvania, criminal charges can only be brought under the statute of limitations in effect at the time of the crime.
For those alleging abuse in the 1970s, that means two years from when it happened. For others, it means two years after they turned 18. Current state law allows prosecutors to file criminal charges before the one-time child victim turns 50 and for victims to seek civil damages in court before they turn 30.
While the probe yielded charges against two clergymen — including a priest who has since pleaded guilty, and another who allegedly forced his accuser to say confession after each sex assault — the vast majority of priests already identified as perpetrators are either dead or are likely to avoid arrest because their alleged crimes are too old to prosecute under state law.
"If we could bring a case on any of this, against any predator priest or anyone who covered it up we will do so," Shapiro said.
Shapiro's comments comes less than two days after a former Vatican diplomat penned a bombshell allegation of sex abuse cover-up against Pope Francis. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano published a testimony Sunday alleging that Francis knew of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick's sexual misconduct starting in 2013 but rehabilitated him from sanctions that Pope Benedict XVI had imposed. The claims have shaken Francis' five-year papacy.
Francis accepted McCarrick's resignation as cardinal last month, after a U.S. church investigation determined that an accusation he had sexually abused a minor was credible.
Vigano's letter identifies by name the Vatican cardinals and U.S. archbishops who were informed about the McCarrick affair, an unthinkable expose for a Vatican diplomat to make. He said documents backing up his version of events are in Vatican archives.
Vigano also called for Francis to resign over what he said was complicity in covering-up McCarrick's crimes. There is ample evidence, however, that the Vatican under Benedict and St. John Paul II also covered up that information, and that any sanctions Benedict imposed were never enforced.
Last week, Francis begged Catholics worldwide for forgiveness for the pain suffered by victims and blasted the clerical culture that has been blamed for the crisis, with church leaders more concerned about their own reputations than the safety of children.
"We showed no care for the little ones," Francis wrote. "We abandoned them."
And while he vowed that "no effort must be spared" to root out priestly sex abuse and cover-up from the Catholic Church, Francis gave no indication that he would take action to sanction complicit bishops or end the Vatican culture of secrecy that has allowed the crisis to fester.