A Pennsylvania grand jury report has accused more than 300 “predator priests” of molesting children across six Roman Catholic dioceses.
According to the report, which was made public on Tuesday, the “real” number may be “much higher,” as many victims were allegedly afraid to come forward, and some records may have been lost.
So far, more than 1,000 victims — boys, girls, teens, and pre-pubescent children — have been identified.
The abuse allegedly took place over a span of several decades, the Associated Press reported.
Senior church leaders were also accused of working to cover up the abuse, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said.
BREAKING: Landmark Pennsylvania grand jury report finds more than 300 'predator priests' sexually abused children.
— The Associated Press (@AP) August 14, 2018
“The abuse was rampant and widespread,” Shapiro said during a press conference Tuesday. “It touched every diocese and it is horrifying.”
He also described a “systematic coverup by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.”
The report reveals how the priests allegedly identified those “groomed” for abuse and easily manipulated by giving the children large, gold crosses to mark them, according to PennLive. It also details how the children were taken on “trips,” during which they were repeatedly raped by the priests. The abused children were allegedly given gifts afterward.
Several priests are also accused of manufacturing and distributing child pornography.
When senior church officials learned of the abuse, the report states, little to nothing was done to alert the proper authorities. Instead, the abusers were often transferred to new parishes, where they continued molesting children.
The report is the culmination of a two-year long grand jury investigation that was largely shrouded in secrecy, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. According to the outlet, over the course of the investigation, “dozens of victims” were interviewed in a grand jury room in Pennsylvania, where they “faced a group of strangers, and recounted how they were sexually abused as children by Catholic priests, their rapes and molestation buried by church leaders.”
In many cases, jurors said, “[the] abuse [was] too old to be prosecuted.”
Survivors of that abuse nonetheless testified that coming forward had been both “cathartic” and traumatic, but also pleaded with jurors to make the findings public.
Several priests previously sued to block the report’s release, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court initially agreed to keep the findings private, indefinitely. However, less than a week later, the court explained it needed time to review the petitioners’ complaint, which claimed releasing the report publicly would infringe on their constitutional rights.
“[…] The petitioners alleged that they are named or identified in [the report] in a way that unconstitutionally infringes on their right to reputation and denies them due process based upon the lack of a pre-deprivation hearing and/or an opportunity to be heard by the grand jury,” the court wrote, explaining its earlier decision.
The court eventually allowed the report to be released, albeit with redacted identifying information, hiding the names of the alleged abusers. On Tuesday, it was finally made public.
According to the Inquirer, several victims said they viewed “even the redacted report’s release as a vindication they thought might never come.”
The report also comes as the Roman Catholic Church struggles to rebuild its tarnished image in the wake of wider sex abuse scandals.
As the Washington Post noted this week, the allegations have thrown into question Pope Francis’s handling of abuse more broadly. “The pope’s track record has been mixed, something some outsiders attribute to his learning curve or shortcomings and others chalk up to resistance from a notoriously change-averse institution,” the Post’s Michelle Boorstein, Chico Harlan, and Reis Thebault reported.
The report also follows closely on the heels of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s removal from public ministry by the Holy See on June 20, after being accused of molesting both children and adults for several decades. In July, Pope Francis ordered McCarrick, who previously served as archbishop of Washington, D.C., to resign himself to a life of seclusion, prayer, and penance, “until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.”