Report on Pennsylvania priest abuse to be most extensive yet
The results of a lengthy probe into the handling of sexual-abuse claims by Roman Catholic dioceses throughout Pennsylvania, which victim advocates say will be the biggest and most exhaustive ever by a U.S. state, could be made public within weeks.
A statewide grand jury spent nearly two years looking into the abuse scandal, and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has said he plans to address the panel’s findings by the end of June.
The grand jury investigated six of the state’s eight dioceses, which collectively minister to more than 1.7 million Catholics. The report is expected to reveal details of widespread abuse and efforts to conceal and protect abusive priests.
A judge’s ruling last week gave the first real details of an investigation that started in July 2016. Judge Norman Krumenacker rejected an effort to delay the report’s release or allow people named in the report to challenge parts of it before its release.
Krumenacker, a Cambria County judge who has been overseeing the grand jury, wrote in his opinion that the investigative body had heard from dozens of witnesses and reviewed over half a million pages of internal documents from diocesan archives. The investigation involved allegations of child sexual abuse, failure of church structures to report it to law enforcement and obstruction of justice by people “associated with the Roman Catholic Church, local public officials and community leaders,” he said.
The report could be groundbreaking, said Terry McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org. Several smaller states, including Maine and New Hampshire – each with one diocese that covers the full state – have issued reports, but no state the size of Pennsylvania has conducted a full accounting, he said.
“You’re going to learn a lot about this crisis that you never knew before,” he said. “Another thing you are going to see in a report of this geographic scope is an accounting of the geographic solution, meaning within the Pennsylvania dioceses there is a certain amount of mobility, and priests who have trouble in one diocese might be transferred to another within the state. There hopefully will be some accounting of that.”
Two priests have been arrested on child sexual-abuse charges as a result of the probe, one each in the Erie and Greensburg dioceses. Prosecutors have said one of those priests assaulted a boy more than 20 times as he was serving as an altar boy and would later require the boy to confess the abuse to him.
The overall investigation involves the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton.
It is unclear whether there will be any other charges filed as a result of the report, because of Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations on child sexual-abuse crimes.
Under state law, criminal charges can be filed up to the time the person making the claim of child sexual abuse is age 50. Civil claims can be filed for child sexual abuse until the person alleging the abuse turns 30.