More than 300 Catholic priests sexually abused at least 1,000 children over the last 70 years and church leaders did all they could to cover it up, a Pennsylvania grand jury report released Tuesday said.
The report said the number of victims might actually be in the thousands because church records have been lost and some victims were too scared to report the crimes.
“Church officials routinely and purposefully described the abuse as horseplay and wrestling and inappropriate conduct,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “It was none of those things. It was child sex abuse, including rape.”
The grand jury report said both boys and girls in six dioceses in Pennsylvania were victims. One priest was accused of raping a girl in her hospital bed just after she had her tonsils taken out.
One boy said he was given juice, only to wake up the next day, bleeding from his behind, without any recollection of what had happened to him. Some priests were accused of sharing child pornography and photographs of naked boys.
The report said various bishops and other church leaders knew about the crimes but did not report them to police because they were afraid of bad publicity and lawsuits.
Abusive priests instead were sent to what the church calls treatment centers, and many returned to their ministries, where they continued to serve for decades.
Of the more than 300 priests named in the report, only two have been criminally charged. The rest are either dead or cannot be charged because the statute of limitations has run out.
“We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated,” the report said.
The Vatican has not yet commented on the report, but the Diocese of Pittsburgh asked Tuesday for forgiveness.
Former Pittsburgh Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who is now archbishop of Washington, D.C., denied the grand jury allegations that he protected abusive priests. He said he acted with “diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse.”