Grand Jury Discovers Decades of Child Abuse, Hundreds of Victims, in Pennsylvania Diocese

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By Rachel Ford

I don’t usually do this, but this is pretty horrifying stuff. So, content warning for rape and child abuse.

A Pennsylvania grand jury investigation into the Pennsylvanian Altoona-Johnstown Diocese has wrapped up, and its findings are gut-wrenching: hundreds of children were sexually abused by Church leaders over the course of decades. More to the point, the Church not only knew about it, but also went so far as to interfere with police investigations in order to hide it.

The most infuriating part of it all? The plan worked:

None of the alleged criminal acts detailed in the report can be prosecuted at this point because many of the alleged abusers have died, the statute of limitations for these crimes has passed, and many of the victims are too “deeply traumatized” to testify in court, according to the Office of the Attorney General.

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19 COMMENTS

  1. This is an apposite occasion to quote that treasury of cultural riches and curiosities, the Bible:

    Matthew 7:17-20

    Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

  2. Garrick,

    I went to 16 years of catholic school. I am of the opinion that, in fact, the church leaders (and centuries of church leaders) think raping children is just fine. I think that the priesthood, somewhere along the course of history was hijacked by child rapists, and, in fact, it is the norm and not just defended and hidden; but actually encouraged and expected. I think that this zeitgeist has been part and parcel of the church and is so ingrained that it has only recently began to abate as it has been exposed to the light of day and as (hopefully) men have moved into positions who, themselves, are not rapists nor are they amenable to enabling such awful people.

    However, it is slow going and I proffer that the pace of this turnaround is directly proportional to exactly how “OK” the clergy is/has always been with hurting children. If there is an alternative hypothesis, I’d entertain it, but, it would have to be pretty persuasive to convince me that my hypothesis is not, in fact a THEORY.

  3. This is what you get when you repress normal sexuality in a boys club in which one is encouraged believe in authority above all else. I have a hypothesis (thanks Crooked for the reminder – I almost said theory) that churches can only maintain a hold if you have had to give something significant up.

    Like a poker machine people get trapped by the idea that they have already thrown in $100 so they had better keep doing it until it pays off or they’d have been fools and wasted all that money. The trick is to get people to believe in patent nonsense in the first place. Churches requiring celibacy in the priesthood I suspect have a similar impact to have sacrificed so much that your body desires by way of normal sexual desire requires commitment and the more you have missed out on and the longer you have suffered the harder it would be to leave. Unfortunately this system isn’t perfect and I suspect it just succeeds in twisting the sexuality of those involved, hence the proportion of child rapists. Unfortunately many of these guys have now ascended into power and must know the whole deck of card could come crumbling down around them. But get the average Catholic to see this seems to be a bit more difficult than it should be.

  4. Reckless,

    The situation you describe with the poker allusion is referred to as “pot committed” in my neck of the woods. And, it is a lucid insight you’ve provided. Imagine being so pot committed that the rape of a child is secondary on your priority list. It’s repugnant.

    But, i will stand by my hypothesis; it is business as usual and even encouraged and has been for most of the RCC’s shit history. I hope the needle is moving opposite to these child abusing rapists, but, fear that it only window dressing and the real problem has simply been buried more efficiently.

  5. Crookedshoes, that is a bold hypothesis you put forward there at #3. If there were abundant evidence to work with, your hypothesis would be a very good one to adopt in order to see how far it could be substantiated; but, unfortunately, apart from a few reports of rumors and gossip, very little evidence exists of any such abuse of children by priests and religious prior to, say, the First World War. That, of course, is not to say that it did not occur.

    Like you, I went through Catholic schooling and, after a year at university, I then entered the seminary to study for the priesthood. I did not proceed to ordination but chose eventually to enter a monastery. So I did get a good look around some of the less public parts of the Catholic Church. I would not go so far as to agree that “the priesthood . . . was hijacked by child rapists, and, in fact, it is the norm and not just defended and hidden; but actually encouraged and expected,” but given the evidence we have of entrenched protectiveness of the clergy and religious by bishops and religious superiors against claims of child-molestation by them, it is easy to trace such entrenched attitudes to former times, when bishops belonged socially to the aristocracy (and at one time were almost exclusively born aristocrats), when children had few rights and were very much minors according to the law, and when the Church’s authority, concerning godly and moral matters, was considered superior to earthly authority.

    I knew many bishops, abbots, priests, monks and nuns in my Catholic days, along with the odd monsignor, archbishop and cardinal, and never got even a hint from any of them that raping children was something worth doing. No, some of them were quite saintly, quite inspiring, quite beautiful people, and the rest were doing their best to live well and decently like most of us. Still, I agree that the problem of child-molestation by priests and religious goes back centuries, at least as far back as the twelfth century, when Roman church authorities finally got serious about enforcing priestly celibacy.

    Furthermore, a celibate clergy is an excellent cover for someone with paedophile tendencies in a society that venerates the church and its representatives. Given the appalling number of cases of sexual child-abuse uncovered in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, when the processing of applicants to seminaries and religious houses was to some extent concerned with sexual maturity and society was very much concerned with the rights of children, it would be entirely unreasonable to maintain that less child-molestation occurred in earlier centuries, when the processing of applicants to the same establishments was not at all concerned with sexual maturity and society had little regard for the rights of children.

    Reckless Monkey’s point that a basic part of the church’s method is “to get people to believe in patent nonsense” adds another perspective to this more unsavory matter of child-molestation, for it reminds us how the church has been able over centuries to avoid critical scrutiny and maintain its moral authority over people’s lives. But it also alerts us to the sham that the church actually is and always has been. It teaches patent nonsense, and everyone needs to be made aware of this startlingly basic and obvious fact. We do not need to put up with this foul institution that has for centuries facilitated willy-nilly the sexual abuse of children and further abused them mentally by indoctrinating them in beliefs that undermined their natural reason. An institution that produces such bad fruit should, like the corrupt tree, be hewn down and cast into the fire.

  6. Crookedshoes, I posted you a long reply and now find that it has disappeared. We have a similar attitude to the Catholic Church, but, for reasons which I set out in my mysteriously deleted reply, I do not agree that “the priesthood . . . was hijacked by child rapists, and, in fact, it is the norm and not just defended and hidden; but actually encouraged and expected.” The evidence does not support that hypothesis, but nor is that necessary to have good grounds for getting rid of an institution that willy-nilly facilitates child-molestation to the appalling extent so far uncovered in legal cases and enquiries and also abuses children mentally by indoctrinating them in beliefs that undermine their natural reason. I am now out of time. I cannot think why my post disappeared; it contained no links to be checked by a moderator. Any suggestions?

  7. Sorry, Garrick. It had been automatically set aside as spam – not sure why: normally it’s because of links, but clearly not in this case.

    It does happen from time to time. We look in at regular intervals and will always retrieve anything that’s been wrongly set aside for approval or marked as spam, so in most cases it’s just a question of waiting until one of us is online again.

    It’s back again now.

    The mods

  8. Garrick #6
    Mar 7, 2017 at 11:14 am

    I knew many bishops, abbots, priests, monks and nuns in my Catholic days, along with the odd monsignor, archbishop and cardinal, and never got even a hint from any of them that raping children was something worth doing.

    The chart on this link to the Australian abuse scandal, shows that abuses were much more prevalent in some orders than others, so some people would encounter very little, while others would be have been surrounded by it!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-38877158

  9. Alan4discussion #9
    Mar 7, 2017 at 12:34 pm
    The chart on this link to the Australian abuse scandal, shows that abuses were much more prevalent in some orders than others, so some people would encounter very little, while others would be have been surrounded by it!

    Yet another good point to bear in mind in this very complex problem, Alan. I suppose I was lucky; although I might have apostatized much sooner, had I been in a community where such abuse was more common (even if the abuse was entirely clandestine, it would have affected the community’s ethos, the sort of thing I was always sensitive to). So perhaps I could have been luckier!

    And thank you, Moderators!

  10. Alan4 and Garrick,

    The fact that I was surrounded by it and that it “seems” to trace back generations caused my bold hypothesis. I’d certainly be relieved to be demonstrably proven wrong. I had no fewer than 40% of priests I’ve ever known as known predators (I mentally compiled a list). Even more recently, a priest at my children’s school (yes, i sent my kids to catholic school — long story) was shown to be a pedophile. now, Garrick, while I would go to the mat defending the man who runs our parish and would agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of “saintly” when it comes to him, I gotta ask you, if you were a member of an organization that purported to help the most vulnerable of people and, you found out that a minority (a large minority) of the members that you thought were doing good work were, in fact, wrecking peoples lives and then ducking the responsibility; the moral, legal, and monetary responsibility, could I still call you saintly if you stayed in the ranks of such a group?

    The only way I can see people staying is if they have no other harbor, and no offense, but in my geographical area, ex-priests have little or no job viability, nor are they trained to do anything remotely close to marketable. they are truly pot committed. So, these disgusting acts of men who clearly are contemptuous of these children are systematically covered up and defended because the men of the organization cannot allow it to fail. They have nothing outside of it.

    I had two pedophile priests make advances toward me twice in my life, but I am a confident confrontational extrovert and i think the predator realized that they’d get the “short end” if they followed through. I actually smacked one of them when his hand went to my body. The other simply said perverse things, I told him to fuck off and went on my way. The man drove a purple Cadillac with a velvet interior and literally wore thongs that he’d “show off” by bending over in front of a room full of high school kids.

    I live in Philly, and a cursory google search of relatable search words will yield an almost unbelievable avalanche of reported cases.

    Further (and over the top reprehensible) the RCC in Wilmington, Delaware actually filed bankruptcy to keep from having to settle an 88 million dollar suit won by the raped children. Can you imagine a more blatant demonstration of their actual idol of worship? it is certainly not any god, but rather money. Sex and money.

    The diocese of Philadelphia is looking at doing the same thing over an estimated 100 million dollar plus settlement. Here’s the thing. How on earth is our gov’t allowing individual churches to claim bankruptcy to evade what is just and right when each of these parishes contributes to the whole of the church? Oh, that’s right, they all worship that same cash money.

  11. crookedshoes #11
    Mar 7, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    The fact that I was surrounded by it and that it “seems” to trace back generations caused my bold hypothesis. I’d certainly be relieved to be demonstrably proven wrong.

    Some history books suggest that at some times the repressed religious were less focussed on children! Having said that, many were married off at a younger age than at present.

    http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/497

    One view, mainly promulgated by extant church writing, is a negative view regarding sex as a pollutant and a threat to the soul.
    Opposed to this strict and sin-wracked image stands an earthier one.
    Lusty priests seduce the women who confess to them; noblemen keep mistresses; monks and nuns engage in secret liaisons while peasant couples copulate behind the hedgerows: such texts present a lustful, playful version of sex. For Karras, both views are true.

    In discussing medieval sex, it is also important to keep in mind that attitudes towards sex changed during the course of the Middle Ages.
    There was far more regulation in the later Middle Ages than the earlier.
    It is also important to recognise that there were a variety of peoples in the medieval period and not all people were Christian.
    Some were Christian heretics, but others were members of the Orthodox Church, or were Jewish, or were Muslim.

  12. crookedshoes #11
    Mar 7, 2017 at 2:28 pm
    . . . if you were a member of an organization that purported to help the most vulnerable of people and, you found out that a minority (a large minority) of the members that you thought were doing good work were, in fact, wrecking peoples lives and then ducking the responsibility; the moral, legal, and monetary responsibility, could I still call you saintly if you stayed in the ranks of such a group?

    That is a very different experience from any I had. My concern would not be whether you could or would call me saintly if I stayed in the ranks of such a group of priests, but to get out of there. That would clearly not be the kind of community I could bear to be associated with. Yet, as you mentioned, Crookedshoes, the man who runs your parish is saintly, and I am sure that part of the difficulty of his position arises from the personal and sexual indiscipline of many of his associates.

    The question of sexual discipline (in a society where a movie called Fifty Shades of Grey was a box-office hit, a phrase like ‘sexual discipline’ seems a little inappropriate for my meaning, but never mind) among priests and religious did come up from time to time in my own experience, but more as something to keep a prudent watch over. When, as a seminarian, I was about to leave for a few months of teaching in another town, my spiritual director cautioned me, quite in passing, against accepting an invitation from a certain priest there to his room. Nothing more specific was said — such indelicate matters were usually spoken of obliquely and as briefly as possible. As it turned out, the priest in question never came near me, so there was never an awkward moment about that. But more to the point of this discussion, that priest did, I discovered, have a reputation for getting too intimate with some of the boys at the high school where I taught.

    Only two of the more than one hundred students I knew in the seminary turned up in the news years later as convicted child-molesters. One of them I knew quite well and was very much saddened by the news of his conviction, because he had obviously been betrayed by feelings he had suppressed in his efforts to be a good priest. A psychologist I had had to be examined by as part of my application-processing remarked that suppressed sexual drives are like goats (of which she had a herd at home); you have to keep a constant watch on them because they are so unpredictable as to when and where they may bolt. That seemed to have been the case with my former fellow seminarian. The other seminary student turned out to be a hardcore boy-fucker at the boarding-school where he was stationed as a teaching priest. By the time a case was brought against him, he had left the order and was living in England, so the case gained much publicity first as extradition was sought and eventually granted. Shocking as his crimes were, it was very sad to see such a talented man (he was especially talented in music) come to such a disgrace.

    These two cases from my own relatively innocent past lead us back to the ongoing set of problems that the Catholic Church brings to every society where it operates: its insistence on clerical celibacy, its self-protective leadership, and, because of the patent nonsense its clerics and laypeople believe, its inability to recognize and deal effectively with the harmful effects of celibacy on all but a few people who may flourish under it. And, as mentioned before, this state of affairs exists because of the patent nonsense it is the said church’s mission to proclaim and teach.

    Crookedshoes, let me conclude by saying it is very much to your credit that, even in the midst of a rather depraved clerical scene, you have not succumbed to prejudice with regard to “the man who runs [your] parish”. I was impressed by that, after feeling somewhat shocked by the scene you described — it rivals descriptions of the seedier side of life in the Vatican.

  13. Garrick,

    I once said to a nun:

    What better disguise could your devil have than to masquerade as an institution that helps people and what better test of your free will could there be than to see the evidence and walk away?

    Her answer was to get infuriated and declare the conversation closed.

    Thanks for your praise, it is a very small thing that you allude to. But, a losing night at poker does not mean you lost every hand… rather you could only lose one hand out of 100 and have wagered enough on the loser to offset all your winnings. This works beautifully for me in relation to the raping of ONE SINGLE child. it offsets any and every other thing that may be done. The RCC is a loser because of their inability to act appropriately. One child hurt is a big enough “losing hand” to offset the rest.

    And, as a small bit of evidence for my hypothesis, I will rely on the stark drop off in young men getting “the call” to the priesthood correlating with the light shining on the nastiness of the clergy. It’s no longer safe and the numbers have dropped and dropped and dropped.

    Last year, in the BILLION dollar St. Charles Seminary (near me), 6 priests were ordained. SIX.

  14. Hi Crookedshoes,

    I love the comment you gave to the nun. My nephew is serious about a lovely young girl from a Catholic family. She is very curious about beliefs and is still part of the church, her brother is becoming a priest and I’m just itching to meet him and have a chat. I’m going to keep that one up my sleeve for that occasion.

    Just found out about the interdependent confirmation of the Irish home for unwed mothers run by nuns who took unwed mothers until they had their babies, then kept the babies only to poorly feed them and keep them under appalling conditions causing 800 to die from 1930 to 1960 (about 1 every 3 weeks by my rough calculations). The bodies were not buried but put in some sort of septic system. I remember this coming up a few years ago on this site and there being some controversy about the legitimacy of this (although the controversy may have been at my school where it was hotly debated in my staffroom also). Well it has now apparently been confirmed. Multiply that potentially by all these types of homes world wide and it leaves me wondering about how the Catholic church effects men and women differently. There have been no allegations of sexual abuse of these children that I am aware of but they were clearly treated appallingly, has been described by survivors as like a prison. So I’m finding myself very curious about how the extremes of belief are manifested in the Catholic church among both the men and women.

    here

  15. @Garrick, thanks very much for your insights and contribution. Much appreciated.

    I support the Theory offered by crookedshoes and I think Reckless Monkey’s hypothesis about sexual repression is an accurate explanation of phenomenon.

    You remarked:

    “…apart from a few reports of rumors and gossip, very little
    evidence exists of any such abuse of children by priests and religious
    prior to, say, the First World War. That, of course, is not to say
    that it did not occur…the problem of child-molestation by priests
    and religious goes back centuries, at least as far back as the twelfth
    century”*

    You would be familiar with Didache, the first writings we have I think, which described the problem of clerical child rape, so the record extends to the beginning of The Church.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alex-wilhelm/the-long-scandal-a-histor_b_560904.html

    Recent revelations in Australia indicate between 7% and 40% of clerics have been exposed as perpetrators. Naturally that precludes those who have evaded detection, aided and abetted by the existing hierarchy.

  16. Alex Wilhelm, “Huffington Post”:
    “As inferred above from the Didache, child abuse was a problem during the first days of Christendom.”

    Len Walsh, many thanks for reminding me of the Didache, which scholars date around the end of the first century CE, though some still put it earlier and some later, say the middle of the second century (I notice that Alex Wilhelm accepts the early date of 70 CE).

    Because it is an early Christian composition and most of it was formed by bringing together material from earlier sources (this being one of the reasons for making the dating difficult), the Didache does indeed indicate that child abuse was a problem in the early church. It would, however, be misleading to suggest that the early church, which was very different in many respects from the Catholic Church of late mediaeval and subsequent times, was the source of the problem of child abuse in the first and second centuries CE. Child abuse was a common practice throughout the ancient world long before Christianity appeared, and it continued to be a practice and a problem among Christians, Jewish and Gentile, for that reason — it was part of ancient culture. There was at that time no celibate clergy. The Didache was referring then to a very different state of affairs, a different problem, from the one that has bedeviled the Catholic Church since at least the late Middle Ages, even though in both cases the effect that concerns us was the same: the sexual abuse of children.

    One interesting question arising out of these considerations is: How successful were the propagators of the teachings in the Didache in stopping child-abuse among Christians of the first, second and later centuries? We know from the many references and quotations of the Didache in later Christian writings, especially among the Church Fathers, that this work was very influential, a few even considering it to belong among the canonical books of scripture (though it was not given that status at the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE). No doubt child-abuse continued to some extent among Christians throughout the Middle Ages, but the more particular problem of clerical child-abuse is what concerns us here.

    Although the belief in the apostolic origin of clerical celibacy was expressed in the fourth century (e.g. by Pope Siricius in 385 CE), and although church legislation in the fourth century also required clerics to remain celibate, it was not until the twelfth century that Roman church authorities began to take consistent action to enforce this requirement. For this reason I cautiously suggested at #6 that clerical sexual abuse of children might tentatively be thought to have arisen as a regular problem as far back as the twelfth century. However, it would be unreasonable to believe that the common practices of paederasty and paedophilia ceased altogether as ancient pagan society gave way to Christian society. Perhaps the official church prohibition of such practices did reduce their occurrence and force any continuation of them to be done by stealth, as Christianity became the established religion of the Mediterranean world and later of northern Europe, but this does not help us to ascertain how much sexual child-abuse was perpetrated by clerics. No doubt there were instances of this in the centuries between the collapse of the Western Empire and the twelfth century, but there is insufficient reason to think that it was a problem characteristic of the clergy of that period.

  17. Those hidden and denied abuses, just keep emerging from the woodwork! — But only when forced out by secular authorities!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-39331338

    Pope Francis has asked for “God’s forgiveness” for the “sins and failings” of the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the Rwandan genocide.

    Dozens of Catholic priests are believed to have been complicit in the killings of some 800,000 people by Hutu extremists in 1994.

    Several massacres were carried out in churches where people sought sanctuary.

    The Vatican has, until now, maintained that the Church as an institution bore no responsibility.

    On Monday, Pope Francis conveyed his “profound sadness” for the “genocide against the Tutsi,” the Vatican said in a statement.

    He begged for God’s forgiveness “for the sins and failings of the Church and its members” who, the statement said, had “succumbed to hatred and violence”.

    In November, the government in Kigali requested an apology from the Vatican for the role that some Catholic priests and religious figures played in the massacres of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

    “Today, genocide denial and trivialisation continue to flourish in certain groups within the Church and genocide suspects have been shielded from justice within Catholic institutions,” a government statement said earlier on Monday.

    The Pope’s statement, which he said he hoped would help Rwanda heal, followed a meeting in Rome with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

    Mr Kagame described the comments on Monday as a great moment and a new chapter in relations between his country and the Vatican.

    Mr Kagame, Tutsi, led a rebel force to halt the slaughter in 1994 as accusations surfaced that some priests and nuns had taken part in the killings.

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