What to Know
- A report into child sex abuse in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses says thousands of young victims were abused over many decades.
- A grand jury worked for two years to investigate the alleged predator priests. Some clergy opposed the release of the report.
- The grand jury blacked out some accused priests' names, after some clergy said the release would violate their rights to due process.
A damning, years-long grand jury report implicates hundreds of Catholic clergy members in six of Pennsylvania’s dioceses of sexually abusing thousands of young victims over many decades, court records revealed Tuesday.
Lurid details released throughout more than 1,300 pages include rape, abortions, confessions and cover-ups. It took the grand jury more than two years to fully investigate the claims contained in the sometimes explicit report.
In one diocese, for example, a priest is accused of impregnating a 17-year-old girl, forging the head pastor's signature on a marriage certificate and then divorcing the teen months later.
U.S. & World
The scathing grand jury report marks the most sweeping look into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in the United States, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
The grand jury investigated dioceses in Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton, which together minister to more than 1.7 million Catholics.
About 25 percent of people throughout the state identify as Catholic, according to the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.
"We, members of this grand jury, need you to hear this," the report read. "There have been other reports of abuse in the Catholic Church. But never on this scale."
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.
One such victim included a 7 year old boy who was repeatedly raped by Father Edward Graff in Allentown. Graff, a physically imposing man, used so much force to subdue the boy that he severely damaged his victim's spine, Shapiro said. To treat the pain, doctors gave the boy painkillers. He became addicted and eventually overdosed.
Before his death, the victim wrote to the Diocese of Allentown saying that Graff did more than rape him.
"He killed my potential and, in doing so, killed the man I should have become," the letter read.
The victim's mother was among those interviewed by the grand jury and present during Shapiro's comments Tuesday afternoon.
"Shockingly, church leadership kept records of the abuse and the cover-up. These documents, from the dioceses' own 'Secret Archives,' formed the backbone of this investigation," Shapiro said.
Graff left the Allentown diocese in 1988 and was jailed in Texas in 2002 for molesting another boy. He died in jail.
In a separate Allentown incident, a 12-year-old boy experienced physical pain after being roughly molested by a priest, according to the grand jury report.
"Please help me," the priest later confessed.
But the diocese concluded that "the experience will not necessarily be a horrendous trauma" for the victim, and that the family should just be given "an opportunity to ventilate."
The priest continued his ministry for several more years, according to the report.
"They wanted to cover up the cover up," Shapiro said. "My office is not satisfied with the release of a redacted report."
Some victims' names were blacked out from the document but many were revealed with their permission.
Significantly, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington and the former bishop of Pittsburgh, defended himself ahead of Tuesday's revelations.
Wuerl, Pittsburgh native, wrote to priests late Monday saying he acted diligently to protect children while running that diocese for 18 years.
The grand jury named 99 so-called predator priests from the Pittsburgh diocese, however, including several whose actions were especially shocking.
"One boy was forced to stand naked on a bed in the rectory, strip naked and pose as Christ on the cross for the priests," Shapiro said. "They took photos of their victim, adding them to a collection of child pornography which they produced and shared on church grounds."
Some current and former clergy named in the report went to court to prevent its release, arguing it violated their constitutional rights to reputation and due process of law. The state Supreme Court said the public had a right to see it, but ruled the names of priests and others who objected to the findings would be blacked out pending a September hearing on their claims.
The identities of those clergy members remain under court seal.
A couple of dioceses got out ahead of the report and released the names of clergy members who were accused of sexual misconduct with children. On Friday, the bishop of Pittsburgh's diocese said a few priests named in the report are still in ministry because the diocese determined allegations against them were unsubstantiated.
The grand jury's work might not result in justice for Catholics who say they were molested as children. 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.
The document comes at a time of renewed scrutiny and fresh scandal at the highest levels of the U.S. Catholic Church. Pope Francis stripped 88-year-old Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of his title and ordered him to a lifetime of prayer and penance amid allegations that McCarrick had for years sexually abused boys and had sexual misconduct with adult seminarians.
The report reverberated around the country because of the movement of priests over the years. Father Raymond Lukac, who was named in the report, also had been assigned to parishes in Illinois and Indiana.
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.