More than 300 'predator priests' abused over 1,000 children in six dioceses: Grand jury report

Child sexual abuse scandals have rocked the Catholic Church since the early 2000s and it looks like the scope of the problem is only now becoming apparent

                            More than 300 'predator priests' abused over 1,000 children in six dioceses: Grand jury report
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Since the first case came to light in the early part of the 21st century, sexual abuse of children and the subsequent scandals have rocked the Catholic Church and has threatened to derail its attempts at ushering Catholicism into the modern era. The sheer scope of systemic abuse and cover-ups is only now becoming apparent with reports still revealing thousands of cases across the globe.

The new, damning grand jury report will do little to quell the growing unease. The report states that the internal documents from six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania show that more than 300 'predator priests' sexually abused over 1,000 child victims since 1947.

As quoted by CNN, a paragraph from the lengthy report reads: "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."

According to the report, priests and other Catholic leaders did not discriminate when it came to their victims, targeting boys and girls in their teens as well as the pre-pubescent stage. They were groped, molested, or orally, vaginally, and anally raped — one case in Harrisburg involved a priest who abused five sisters at the same family, collecting samples of their urine public hair, and menstrual blood and another saw a Greensburg priest grooming middle-school students for sex.

Even more depressingly, in every single case, leaders in the church ignored the reports of sexual assault and chose to protect the abusers.

At one point, it seemed likely that the report would not see the light of day. Court action had delayed its publication, with a few of the individuals named in the report coming forward to claim that the findings were false and misleading, that they were denied due process of law, and that its release would harm their reputation. 

Following the development, State Attorney General Josh Shapiro had written to Pope Francis on July 25, requesting that he direct church leaders to stop "efforts to silence the survivors." On July 27, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered that the report is to be released by 2 p.m. on August 14, with the caveat that there be redactions in the sections where litigation was still ongoing.

The church abuse scandal will not be a new revelation to Pennsylvanians with two of the state's other dioceses, Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown, also the target of grand jury reports which found similar sexual infractions from the clergy and bishop there. While the statute of limitations means that a large number of these incidents cannot be prosecuted, charges have been filed against two priests in the Erie and Greensburg diocese accused of abusing minors.

Furthermore, this past July saw Pope Francis reluctantly accept the resignation of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick from the College of Cardinals, one of the Catholic Church's most powerful and prominent bodies. The 88-year-old McCarrick, a popular and influential figure in Washington, was accused of molesting a teenage altar boy, as well as several others while rising through the church's ranks. 

But the problem is not one that is endemic to the United States, not by any sense of the word. Australia is currently battling the scandal after a bishop was found guilty of covering up sexual abuse, while Chile recently made the news after a prominent priest was found guilty of the same and had bishops covering up his crimes. Pope Francis was briefly caught in the mix himself after he dismissed the case outright, only to face backlash and later recant said dismissal.

While most of the previous scandals have resulted in apologies from some of the Church's most powerful figures, including the Pope himself — In 2001, John Paul II called sexual abuse within the Church "a profound contradiction of the teaching and witness of Jesus Christ" — the fallout from this most recent grand jury report remains to be seen.