Investigations into abuse by Catholic priests are spreading across the entire US after a two-year probe in Pennsylvania alone revealed hundreds of cases of abuse – and a massive institutional cover-up.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Joshua Shapiro told USA Today that officials from up to 45 states have sought his office’s assistance in prosecuting alleged misconduct by Catholic priests, and alleged cover-ups by the church.
In the Keystone State alone, 300 “predator” priests were found to have abused over 1,000 victims in the past 60 years, a grand jury investigation found. Similar investigations are opening up in Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Guam, and Washington, DC.
The US Department of Justice is also looking into the Pennsylvania cases, running its own investigation out of Philadelphia. Some 1,450 calls have flooded a hotline recently set up for victims not uncovered during the preceding two-year investigation.
Shapiro believes the investigation has just hit on the tip of a very large iceberg. “I think we’re probably in the third or fourth inning, meaning that we still have a good ways to go and a lot more horrors to unearth,” he said.
The grand jury’s report was unflinching in its condemnation, claiming church leaders “often dissuaded victims from reporting abuse to police, pressured law enforcement to terminate or avoid an investigation or conducted their own deficient, biased investigation without reporting crimes against children to the proper authorities.”
Shapiro emphasized that the statute of limitations figured prominently in the church’s foot-dragging and stonewalling. “Almost every instance of child abuse found was too old to be prosecuted… None of those who enabled the cover-up could be charged under our laws.”
“Every opportunity they had to do the right thing, they did the opposite,” he said.
That includes postponing a recent vote on proposals to hold pedophile priests accountable. American bishops were due to weigh in on the measures last month during a convocation in Baltimore, until Pope Francis opted to delay it. The plan reportedly involves a “code of conduct” for priests, a “third-party” reporting system, and implementing restrictions on bishops who have already been removed or reassigned because of sexual abuse – hardly the stuff of controversy.
Several high-ranking Vatican officials have quietly gone away since the scandal began to break, including Cardinal George Pell, one of the Pope’s inner circle, who was reportedly found guilty of sexual abuse in an Australian court last week. At least 18 US dioceses have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, while millions of dollars have been paid out to victims. Pennsylvania’s Erie and Harrisburg dioceses have released a total of 131 names of clergy who – while still employed by the church – are barred from working with children.