Painful picture of Abuse - More than 300 priests, 1,000 victims detailed in report
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court released what is believed to be the largest grand jury report of its kind Tuesday, Aug. 14, leveling accusations of sexual abuse against more than 300 Catholic Church priests and a “systematic cover-up” by church leaders.
Every diocese in the state except Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown, which were the subject of previous grand juries, were the focus of the 18-month probe.
According to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the investigation uncovered “a painful body of facts and documents that paint a complete picture of abuse and cover-up in every diocese.”
Incidents across the state
The report, available at https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/report/, includes the names of 27 priests from the Diocese of Allentown.
Documents show that one priest from the diocese 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, the grand jury report states, and that the family should just be given “an opportunity to ventilate.” The priest was left in unrestricted ministry for several more years.
Also alleged in the report are the following incidents from across the state:
• In the Diocese of Scranton, one priest, Thomas Skotek, raped a young girl, got her pregnant, and arranged an abortion. The Bishop, James Timlin, 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.”
The bishop’s letter was not sent to the girl. It was addressed to the rapist.
• In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, a group of at least four predator priests groomed and abused young boys.
They used whips, violence and sadism in sexually assaulting their young victims. One boy, not yet 18, was forced to stand on a bed in a rectory, strip naked, and pose as Christ on the Cross for the priests. They took photos of their victim, adding them to a collection of child pornography which they produced and shared on church grounds.
• In the Diocese of Harrisburg, one priest, Joe Pease, sexually assaulted a boy repeatedly when the victim was between 13 and 15. Pease admitted to diocese officials to once finding the victim naked upstairs in the rectory — but called it “horse play.”
• In the Diocese of Erie, one priest, Chester Gawronski, fondled boys and told them he was giving them a “cancer check.” Gawronski provided the diocese with a list of 41 “possible” victims.
• In the Diocese of Greensburg, one priest, Raymond Lukac, impregnated a 17-year-old, forged another pastor’s signature on a marriage certificate, then divorced the girl shortly after she gave birth. Despite that, Lukac remained in ministry while the diocese sought a “benevolent bishop” in another state to take the predator, hiding him from justice.
“The cover-up was sophisticated,” Shapiro said in a news conference. “Church officials were sitting on a trove of documents sitting in filing cabinets just feet from the desks of bishops in what the church called its “secret archives.”
While more than 1,000 victims were identified, Shapiro said the grand jury believes the true number may be in the thousands.
Almost every instance of abuse outlined in the report is too old to be prosecuted. Charges were filed, however, against a priest in the Greensburg diocese and a priest in the Erie diocese, who were accused of sexually assaulting children within the past decade. One of those priests, according to charging documents, engaged in oral intercourse with a 7-year-old. The other, the report states, assaulted two different boys, on a monthly basis, for a period of years that ended only in 2010.
“There may be more indictments in the future,” the grand jury wrote. “The investigation continues. We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated. This report is our only recourse.”
The grand jury presented four recommendations to the Catholic Church and elected officials in Pennsylvania.
“First, we ask the Pennsylvania Legislature to stop shielding child sexual predators behind the criminal statute of limitations,” the report states. “Thanks to a recent amendment, the current law permits victims to come forward until age 50. That’s better than it was before, but still not good enough.”
Other recommendations include creating a civil window so older victims can now sue for damages, clarifying penalties for a continuing failure to report child abuse and specifying that Civil Confidentiality Agreements do not cover communications with law enforcement.
Estimates of the number of abusive priests identified since 2002 in the Boston Archdiocese range from about 150 to 250. The 2005 Philadelphia Archdiocese grand jury report identified over 60 priests. The 2016 Altoona-Johnstown report named about 50 abusers.
The Allentown Diocese released a letter from Bishop Alfred Schlert to its members that was to be read in church this past weekend.
“As your Bishop, I am deeply saddened by these incidents,” the letter states. “I sincerely apologize for the past sins and crimes committed by some members of the clergy. I apologize to the survivors of abuse and their loved ones. For the times when those in the Church did not live up to Christ’s call to holiness, and did not do what needed to be done, I apologize.”
Since 2002, Schlert said, the diocese has taken “strong and decisive actions to address abuse.”
“Our goal,” he said, “is to prevent it from happening again, but that does not change the fact that the abuse of children is terrible and sinful. The abuse was devastating and tragic for the victims and survivors, and continues to cause pain and anger to this very day.”
Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, of the Diocese of Scranton, said the diocese cooperated fully with the grand jury because of its firm belief that child sexual abuse cannot be tolerated and must be eradicated from the Church.
“For well over a decade,” he added, “ongoing improvements have been made to the manner in which abuse allegations are addressed. The Diocese of Scranton adheres to a strict zero-tolerance policy, immediately informing law enforcement and removing the accused from the community when allegations are brought forth.”
The Aug. 14 report has several names of the accused redacted after the individuals lobbied the state Supreme Court to keep their identity private. The matter will be argued before the court in September, Shapiro said.
“My office is not satisfied with the release of a redacted report,” he said. “Every redaction represents an incomplete story of abuse that deserves to be told. Be certain we will fight vigorously to remove every redaction and tell every story of abuse and expose every cover-up.”
The 884-page grand jury report has not closed the book on the sexual abuse investigation. Shapiro urged anyone who has information on sexual abuse within the church to call the clergy abuse hotline at 888-538-8541.
“The time of telling accusers to keep the truth to themselves is over,” Shapiro said. “Unlike the Catholic Church and some in law enforcement, we hear you and we believe you.”