Pennsylvania’s newly released grand jury report on clerical sexual abuse focused on only six of the eight Catholic dioceses in the state. Still, jurors’ allegations that senior church officials covered up sex abuse has sent shock waves through Catholic communities across the country.
The report, published Tuesday, unearthed graphic stories of boys and girls assaulted and raped by Catholic priests in the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton. The grand jury identified 301 “predator priests” and more than 1,000 sexual abuse victims over the past 70 years.
Jurors said that in many cases, senior church officials knew that these abuses were occurring yet worked to dismiss victims’ claims and protect the priests.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops promised on Thursday to make it easier for Catholics to report misconduct by bishops and to have those complaints resolved. The USCCB also pledged to ask the Vatican to investigate accusations swirling around former cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, a high-ranking cleric who has been accused of sexually abusing boys and adult seminarians.
The proposals will be presented to the full body of bishops during a November meeting.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, the USCCB’s president, called the failure of bishops on the issue of child sexual abuse a “moral catastrophe.”
“I have no illusions about the degree to which trust in the bishops has been damaged by these past sins and failures,” he wrote in a statement. “It will take work to rebuild that trust.”
The Vatican also issued a statement Thursday, saying, “There should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.”
As the church debates its next steps, American Catholics took to social media this week to express their horror over the detailed accusations in the report. These Catholics are not only outraged; they’re also demanding swift and concrete change.
Some called for all U.S. bishops to follow the example of Chile’s bishops and offer Pope Francis their resignations. Others wanted to see similar grand jury investigations taken up by other U.S. states. According to BishopAccountability.org, which keeps track of sexual abuse cases, there have been just nine investigations by prosecutors or grand juries of American Catholic dioceses or archdioceses.
Others wanted all Catholic dioceses to voluntarily release lists of all current and former priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. The Associated Press reports that only about 40 of America’s nearly 200 Catholic dioceses have released lists with the names of accused priests.
Although the outpouring of anger may seem to be tearing the church apart, the Rev. James Martin, an editor at large of the Jesuit magazine America, said he believes that it is “good, healthy and clarifying.”
In a New York Times op-ed, he encouraged Catholics to speak to their pastors and bishops and express their anger to the Vatican’s representatives.
“Listen to your anger. Let it inform you,” Martin wrote. “Let it move you to act in whatever way you think will most protect children and root out the clerical rot that gave rise to these crimes.”
Read on to see how some American Catholics are grappling with the Pennsylvania abuse report.