Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Pennsylvania Grand Jury - "We need you to hear this."

Archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl. Claims he, "acted with diligence, with concern for the survivors and to prevent future acts of abuse."
Credit: Getty Images
“It happened everywhere”: The unimaginable scale of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania’s Catholic Church. | The New Republic

It might not be typical but there doesn't seem to be anything particularly special and confined to the state that would turn Catholic priests into paedophile sexual predators in the State of Pennsylvania where a Supreme Court Grand Jury investigation has just released a 900-page interim report detailing an astonish 1000 cases of child sexual abuse involving 300 priest over a period of 70 years and revealing systematic coverups.

And that may well be an underestimate. The report states:

We believe that the real number - of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward - is in the thousands.

The report goes on to say:

Most of the victims were boys; but there were girls too. Some were teens; many were pre-pubescent. Some were manipulated with alcohol or pornography. Some were made to masturbate their assailants, or were groped by them. Some were raped orally, some vaginally, some anally. But all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.

As a consequence of the coverup, almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted. But that is not to say there are no more predators. This grand jury has issued presentments against a priest in the Greensburg diocese and a priest in the Erie Diocese, who has [sic] been sexually assaulting children within the last decade. We learned of these abusers directly from their dioceses - which we hope is a sign that the church is finally changing its ways. And there may be more indictments in the future; investigation continues.

But we are not satisfied by the few charges we can bring, which represent only a tiny percentage of all the child abusers we saw. We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated. This report is our only recourse. We are going to name their names, and describe what they did - both the sex offenders and those who concealed them. We are going to shine a light on their conduct, because that is what the victims deserve. And we are going to make our recommendations for how the laws should change so that maybe no one will have to conduct another inquiry like this one. We hereby exercise our historical and statutory right as grand jurors to inform the public of our findings. [My emphasis]

Although each dioceses was different in it's approach to handling cases of child abuse, the Grand Jury found a number of similarities that are highly suggestive of a coordinated approach. FBI agents working for the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime analysed the Catholic Church's own documents and found what amounted to 'a playbook for concealing the truth':

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."

The body of the report goes through each dioceses in turn, giving details of all the cases the Grand Jury learned of, just a small sample of which appear in their introduction:

In the Diocese of Allentown, for example, documents show that a priest was confronted about an abuse complaint. He admitted, "Please help me. I sexually molested a boy." 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 was left in unrestricted ministry for several more years, despite his own confession.

Similarly in the Diocese of Erie, despite a priest's admission to assaulting at least a dozen young boys, the bishop wrote to thank him for "all that you have done for God's people.... The Lord, who sees in private, will reward." Another priest confessed to anal and oral rape of at least 15 boys, as young as seven years old. The bishop later met with the abuser to commend him as "a person of candor and sincerity," and to compliment him "for the progress he has made" in controlling his "addiction." When the abuser was finally removed from the priesthood years later, the bishop ordered the parish not to say why; "nothing else need be noted."

In the Diocese of Greensburg, a priest impregnated a 17-year-old, forged the head pastor's signature on a marriage certificate, then divorced the girl months later. Despite having sex with a minor, despite fathering a child, despite being married and being divorced, the priest was permitted to stay in ministry thanks to the diocese's efforts to find a "benevolent bishop" in another state willing to take him on. Another priest, grooming his middle school students for oral sex, taught them how Mary had to "bite off the cord" and "lick" Jesus clean after he was born. It took another 15 years, and numerous additional reports of abuse, before the diocese finally removed the priest from ministry.

A priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg abused five sisters in a single family, despite prior reports that were never acted on. In addition to sex acts, the priest collected samples of the girls' urine, pubic hair, and menstrual blood. Eventually, his house was searched and his collection was found. Without that kind of incontrovertible evidence, apparently, the diocese remained unwilling to err on the side of children even in the face of multiple reports of abuse. As a high-ranking official said about one suspect priest: "At this point we are at impasse - allegations and no admission." Years later, the abuser did admit what he had done, but by then it was too late.

Elsewhere we saw the same sort of disturbing disdain for victims. In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, church officials dismissed an incident of abuse on the ground that the 15-year-old had "pursued" the priest and "literally seduced" him into a relationship. After the priest was arrested, the church submitted an evaluation on his behalf to the court. The evaluation acknowledged that the priest had admitted to "sado-masochistic" activities with several boys - but the sado-masochism was only "mild," and at least the priest was not "psychotic."

The Diocese of Scranton also chose to defend its clergy abusers over its children. A diocese priest was arrested and convicted after decades of abuse reports that had been ignored by the church. The bishop finally took action only as the sentencing date approached. He wrote a letter to the judge, with a copy to a state senator, urging the court to release the defendant to a Catholic treatment center. He emphasized the high cost of incarceration. In another case, a priest raped a girl, got her pregnant, and arranged an abortion. The bishop expressed his feelings in a letter: "This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief." But the letter was not for the girl. It was addressed to the rapist.

[...]

And we know there might be many additional recent victims, who have not yet developed the resources to come forward either to police or to the church. As we have learned from the experiences of the victims who we saw, it takes time. We hope this report will encourage others to speak.

[My emphasis].

Bishop Donald Wuerl's response to Father Paone's request for permission to transfer (page 224).
The report was also highly critical of Washington DC Archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl, former Bishop of Pittsburgh, for his role in concealing the abuse and in particular his role in allowing an abusive priest, the late Reverend Ernest C. Paone, to continue working as a priest with access to minors and to be transferred to Diocese of San Diego where he taught in public schools. Paone was later assigned to the Diocese of Reno, Nevada, again with Bishop Wuerl's knowledge and approval. The Grand Jury found that:

There is no indication that the Diocese provided any interested parties information that Paone had sexually abused children or that the Diocese had played a role in preventing his prosecution for that conduct.

Despite this documented evidence, according to this BBC report, Cardinal Wuerl claims he "acted with diligence, with concern for the survivors and to prevent future acts of abuse". He went of the say, "The report will be a reminder of grave failings that the Church must acknowledge and for which it must seek forgiveness."

Cardinal Wuerl was moved to Washington on the retirement of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2008. McCarrick, a high-profile Catholic, cleric resigned last week following allegations that he had been sexually abusing children and vulnerable adults for decades.

There are about 3 million Catholics in Pennsylvania. According to Wikipedia there are 70.4 million Catholics in the USA and about 100,000 clerics and ministers employed by the Catholic Church. The Pennsylvania Grand Jury conservatively estimated that there had been over 1000 cases of sexual abuse by 300 priests over 70 years in Pennsylvania

Extrapolated nationally, this suggests almost 23,500 cases of abuse by 7,000 priests in the USA over the same time-scale. The USA has the fourth largest Catholic population in the world although there has been an almost catastrophic fall in church attendance in recent years as a result of these revelations and of the Church's continued demonisation and persecution of minorities and of the LGBT community in particular.

Pope Francis has so far made no comment on the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report.

[Update]
Full (Redacted) report (Caution advised - contents distressing):







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