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PA Clergy Abuse

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has released the report of a two-year grand jury investigation into an epidemic of sexual abuse within the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.

You can find the report here: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Report

The Pennsylvania grand jury found in its investigation that over 300 priests sexually abused thousands of children over a span of 70 years. Catholic Church officials covered-up the abuse until recently, and permitted some of the worst predatory priests to sexually abuse children for decades. The Pennsylvania grand jury noted that the real number of victims of s exual abuse was likely thousands more than known because many records had been lost over the years of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of the abuse, and many victims were too afraid to come forward to report the abuse.

“Until not too long ago, the church was actively and systematically concealing clergy sex abuse. Victims didn't know if their attackers had a history of abuse, and they didn't know the diocese had been enabling that abuse. You can't very well exercise your right to sue when the people responsible are doing their best to cover up.”

The grand jury found that the Catholic Church had an identifiable pattern in its cover-up of priests sexually abusing children. As part of the grand jury investigation the FBI agreed to review a significant portion of the evidence received by the grand jury, and the FBI agents found that the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania had “a playbook for concealing the truth:

  1. First, make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents. Never say "rape"; say "inappropriate contact" or "boundary issues."
  2. Second, don't conduct genuine investigations with properly trained personnel. Instead, assign fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions and then make credibility determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work.
  3. Third, for an appearance of integrity, send priests for "evaluation" at church -run psychiatric treatment centers. Allow these experts to "diagnose" whether the priest was a pedophile, based largely on the priest's "self -reports," and regardless of whether the priest had actually engaged in sexual contact with a child.
  4. Fourth, when a priest does have to be removed, don't say why. Tell his parishioners that he is on "sick leave," or suffering from "nervous exhaustion." Or say nothing at all.
  5. Fifth, even if a priest is raping children, keep providing him housing and living expenses, although he may be using these resources to facilitate more sexual assaults.
  6. Sixth, if a predator's conduct becomes known to the community, don't remove him from the priesthood to ensure that no more children will be victimized. Instead, transfer him to a new location where no one will know he is a child abuser.
  7. Finally and above all, don't tell the police. Child sexual abuse, even short of actual penetration, is and has for all relevant times been a crime. But don't treat it that way; handle it like a personnel matter, "in house."

The Catholic Church also worked to prevent the sexual abuse victims and their families from learning about the Church’s legal responsibility for the abuse until it was too late for the victims to file suit in court, making Pennsylvania’s two-year statute of limitations “something of a sham:”

If a Catholic priest has abused you in Pennsylvania, Illinois, or anywhere in the United States, you may still have time to pursue a case against the Catholic Church and its local Archdioceses and Dioceses. The Pennsylvania grand jury report includes a recommendation to the Pennsylvania General Assembly that it enact a law that would create a “civil window” that would temporarily suspend the statute of limitations so that any victim could bring a claim.

Our attorneys at Hurley McKenna & Mertz currently represent many individuals who were abused by Catholic priests, in some cases as far back as the 1950’s. Our firm has successfully challenged state laws that limit the time for victims of sexual abuse to file suit against institutions like the Catholic Church. If a Catholic priest has abused you in Pennsylvania, Illinois, or anywhere in the United States, please contact us at (312) 553-4900.

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