In a shocking report released by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, several priests from the Catholic Church have been accused of sexually abusing more than a thousand children over a period of 70 years. About 300 clergymen have been named as perpetrators in the report, which also states that the church tried to cover up the shameful incidents.
The grand jury investigated the sex abuse issue within the Catholic Church for more than 18 months. Several dozen witnesses were interviewed during this period and over 500,000 pages of Church records were investigated.
It is from the Church’s own records that over 1,000 cases of child abuse were found. Unfortunately, the number of innocent children who were victimized by the clergy outside of those records might never be discovered. The grand jury believes such lost incidents of abuse may well run over several thousand.
“There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church, but never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now, we know the truth: It happened everywhere,” The Guardian quotes the report.
Young boys and girls, including teenagers, were abused by the clergy over the 70-year period. Most of the victims stated that they were either manipulated or drugged during the abuse. To make matters worse, some of them were beaten by their own family members who did not believe their accounts.
A few of the cases were too old for prosecution because of the cover-ups by the Church. “I had gone to two bishops with allegations over five years, and they ignored and downplayed my allegations. It’s that very management of secrets that has given cover to predators,” Rev. James Faluszczak, an Erie priest, says in an interview with The New York Times.
Over 300 clergy members of the Catholic Church have been named. However, a few names were redacted on the grounds that it would violate the constitutional rights of the clergy.
“Church officials routinely and purposefully described the abuse as horseplay and wrestling and inappropriate conduct. It was none of those things. It was child sexual abuse, including rape,” BBC quotes State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office was working to find a way to get the redactions removed.
Pennsylvania is known to be home to a large Catholic population. It is estimated that one in four residents of the state is a Catholic.
The statute of limitations
A very contentious issue of the scandal has been the statute of limitations. Since many of the abuse cases happened so long ago, victims have been unable to file a lawsuit against the Church, as most of them are now aged 30 years and older. The Pennsylvania State Legislature has rejected the pleas for lifting the statute of limitations.
But this appears to be a cruel joke being played on the victims. It is after decades that they have mustered the courage to speak against their abusers and get justice in a court of law. In such a situation, denying them their rightful need for justice based on formalities like the statute of limitations is very unfair.
The attorney general and the grand jury seem to have understood this and have recommended that the statute of limitations be lengthened. And for this specific case, they have called for the opening of a special temporary window which would allow older victims to file lawsuits against their abusers.