Pennsylvania grand jury report identifies 300 abusive priests

Pennsylvania grand jury report identifies 300 abusive priests

The Grand Jury Report

Over the past few months the Catholic Church has had to deal with many accusations of sex abuse within its institutions. Outrage about these scandals gained steam when the Pennsylvania grand jury investigated six dioceses in their state and published a report with allegations for over 300 priests. Over 1,000 child victims were identified, however the jury says they have reason to believe the real number is well into the thousands. “We believe the real number — of the children whose records were lost, or who were afraid to come forward —  is in the thousands” (Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, page 1). The report says that many of these victims were boys, but there were also girls. Many were pre-pubescent, but there were also teens. Some of the children were manipulated with alcohol or pornography. Fear of shame caused these cases to exceed the statute of limitations.

In the documents the jury investigated, they found patterns in which diocesan leaders managed abuse cases. “The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid “scandal. That is not our word, but theirs; it appears over and over again in the documents we recovered” (Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, page 2).  The grand jury explained how abuse complaints were kept hidden in a “secret archive” of which the church’s Code of Canon Law only allows the bishop access. The Code of Canon Law requires each diocese to keep one of these archives. “The strategies were so common that they were susceptible to behavioral analysis by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Special agents testified before us that they had identified a series of practices that regularly appeared in various configurations, in the diocesan files they had analyzed” (Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, page 2). The report also tells of abuse cases in detail. One, for example, spoke about a priest who impregnated a 17 year old girl. He forged the head pastor’s signature on a marriage certificate and shortly after, divorced her. Even though he had had intercourse with a minor and even though he had divorced, which is looked down upon in the Catholic Church, he was still able to continue working as a priest. This is just one of many abuse accounts about a priest having sexual relationships with minors.

The grand jury also reported on the strategies these church uses. “First, make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents. Never say “rape”; say ‘inappropriate contact’ or ‘boundary issues.’

“Second, don’t conduct genuine investigations with properly trained personnel. Instead, assign fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions and then make credibility determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work.

“Third, for an appearance of integrity, send priests for ‘evaluation’ at church run psychiatric treatment centers. Allow these ‘experts’ to diagnose whether the priest was a pedophile, based largely on the priest’s ‘self-reports,’ and regardless of whether the priest had actually engaged in sexual contact with a child.

“Fourth, when a priest does have to be removed, don’t say why. Tell his parishioners that he is on ‘sick leave,’ or suffering from ‘nervous exhaustion.’ Or say nothing at all.

“Fifth, even if a priest is raping children, keep providing him housing and living expenses, although he may be using these resources to facilitate more sexual assaults.

“Sixth, if a predator’s conduct becomes known to the community, don’t remove him from the priesthood to ensure that no more children will be victimized. Instead, transfer him to a new location where no one will know he is a child abuser.

“Finally, and above all, don’t tell the police. Child sexual abuse, even short of actual penetration, is and has for all relevant times been a crime. But don’t treat it that way; handle it like a personnel matter, ‘in house’” (Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, page 3).

Jurors found some cases where law enforcement learned of clergy sex abuse, however, because these cases were decades old, police or prosecutors deferred to the church officials. Jurors did find fairly recent cases while investigating, but because it involved old conduct they were rejected by the statute of limitations.

The Pennsylvania jury closed the letter with a list of priests who had abused children and recommendations on how to prevent abusive priests from continuing to prey on children.

  1. Eliminated the criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing children.
  2. Create a two-year “civil window” for child sex abuse.
  3. Clarify the penalties for a continuing failure to report child abuse.
  4. Prohibit “non-disclosure” agreements regarding cooperation with law enforcement.


The church should not be treated like they are above the law. Canon Law protects abusive priests but harms their members. If someone were to sue the Catholic Church, then it should go to an American court and should have no involvement with Canon Law. In a democratic republic, any system that promotes a theocracy should be illegal. The abuse will not stop until the Catholic Church is held accountable and the priests pursued for legal action.