If you’re Catholic or, like me, grew up Catholic, reading about this grand jury report that details the abuse of thousands of children over several decades by hundreds of priests is both painful and inexpressibly sad.
Two decades after the issue of covering up sexual abuse by priests first came to the fore, the Catholic Church has apparently failed to properly address the problem and is continuing to cover up horrific crimes.
A hierarchy of Roman Catholic Church leaders covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over three generations in Pennsylvania, persuading victims not to report the crimes and police officers not to investigate them, according to a sweeping grand jury report released Tuesday.
The investigation, the broadest inquiry into church sex abuse in US history, identified 1,000 children who were victims but added that there probably are thousands more.
Some of the examples of abuse related by victims:
■ In Erie, a 7-year-old boy was sexually abused by a priest who then told him he should go to confession and confess his ‘‘sins’’ to that same priest.
■ Another boy was repeatedly raped from ages 13 to 15 by a priest who bore down so hard on the boy’s back that it caused severe spine injuries. He became addicted to painkillers and later died of an overdose.
■ One victim in Pittsburgh was forced to pose naked as Christ on the cross while priests photographed him with a Polaroid camera. Priests gave the boy and others gold cross necklaces to mark them as being ‘‘groomed’’ for abuse.
■ A priest raped a young girl in the hospital after she had her tonsils out.
■ Another priest was allowed to stay in ministry after impregnating a 17-year-old girl, forging a signature on a marriage certificate and then divorcing the girl.
By covering for these predator priests by shuttling them from parish to parish, the diocesan hierarchy enabled pedophiles to continue to victimize children. There also appeared to be active measures taken by the dioceses to prevent justice from being done.
This is nothing new, as we’ve discovered over the past two decades, not only in the U.S. but around the world. The church’s standard practice of “counseling” these pedophile priests to “cure” them of their perverted desires rather than turning them over to police and the justice system has led to tens of thousands of more victims.
There is a crisis of faith in the Catholic Church and rightly so. The last two popes have sought to change the way that abuse cases are handled, but the problem persists. No one realistically expected the culture to change quickly, but progress has not been as rapid as it should be. There are still priests preying on children and the hierarchy’s response is still unsatisfactory to victims and their families, despite a “zero tolerance” policy implemented by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002.
For tens of thousands of victims, it’s of little comfort.