Pennsylvania’s Catholic Diocese is facing intense scrutiny after the Department of Justice started an investigation into sexual abuse scandals within the church. Both local and national church leaders stand accused of intentionally covering up sex scandals so that individuals associated would not have to stand trial.
Just how much is the church covering up, here? Could this be the biggest case against the church yet? Let’s take a look at the facts.
• The DOJ officially subpoenaed church leaders last week. Allegedly, they’re looking for confidential church documents disclosing the crimes, but they’re also asking for testimonials from associated and third-party leaders.
• This isn’t the first time authorities have investigated the Catholic church for sex crimes, both here on U.S. soil and beyond. It is, however, the first statewide investigation, drawing attention to the fact that authorities are more closely scrutinizing cases in order to hold leaders responsible for their crimes.
• In fact, the current case relates back to a second scenario that unfolded several months ago, when the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office released a report alleging a massive sex crimes cover-up spanning nearly 70 years of service. Over 1,000 victims were listed or referred to in the report.
• The U.S. District Attorney’s office subpoenaed information from dioceses in Philadelphia, Erie, Harrisburg, Scranton, Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Allentown, as well as Altoona-Johnstown. All confirmed the subpoena to the press except for Altoona-Johnstown, who refused to comment.
• The case also has many – including other church leaders – raising the question of exactly why the church feels entitled to hide crimes. If these documents prove the existence of child sexual abuse, anything but handing them over to local authorities is essentially being complicit with child abuse.
• An excerpt from the “40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury – Report 1” paints a disturbing picture of the history of Pennsylvania’s Catholic diocese as well as the government’s failure to intervene. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades,” it reads. “Most of the victims were boys; but there were girls too. Some were teens; many were prepubescent. Some were manipulated with alcohol or pornography.”
• Deeper in the report, it becomes clear that this wasn’t just a few leaders keeping a secret among themselves. It outlines a six-part plan found within the confidential documents, seemingly designed to give the church the power to hide virtually any sex crime, no matter how serious.
• The first entry states that leaders should never create reports with words like “rape,” “sexual assault” or “sexual abuse.” Instead, reports should use softer language, like “boundary issues.”
• The next rule tells leaders to never use professional investigators to review alleged sex crimes – they should use peers and clergy workers instead. And, even more disturbingly, investigating clergy should rely on character reviews from the accused’s peers within the church.
• The third rule indicates that accused leaders should be forced to undergo psychiatric investigation – but not from an independent third-party center or professional psychologist. Instead, they recommend using church-run psychiatric treatment centers.
• The fourth rule details what to do if a priest must be removed. Instead of revealing the truth to the public, the church should excuse him for medical leave or “exhaustion” – or even say nothing at all.
• The fifth and sixth rules within the documents may be the most disturbing. First, the church should continue to provide financial and housing support for accused priests, even if they have rock-solid proof of assault. The last and final sixth rule tells leaders to simply transfer the priest to a new location instead of having him ousted as an abuser.
• But not every leader in the church believes the documents should be hidden; there are some who feel strongly about exposing criminals for what they are. Reverend James Martin, who writes for America Magazine, gave his thoughts as reported by the New York Times. “I hope that this encourages church leaders at every level, and in every locale, to voluntarily open their files on all priests who have been credibly accused in past decades,” he explained.
• But the Reverend was also quick to backtrack, seemingly denying the seriousness of the allegations to some degree. “It’s also important to note that, today, any credibly accused priest is immediately removed from ministry.”
• What does “credible” mean, here? We already know that at least two of the men mentioned in the report were later convicted of sex crimes; just what are they defining as credible? The DOJ would not be involved unless they specifically believed they had something to find.
• If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic leader, and live in New York, call 1-800-771-7755. In New Jersey, call 1-855-363-6548. In Pennsylvania, call 1-888-538-8541. In all other areas, call 1-877-762-7432. Please call, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. It’s time to hold them accountable and more importantly, to understand that you aren’t alone.