A Pennsylvania grand jury released its report of a two-year investigation into sexual abuses by Catholic priests across 67 counties throughout the state on Tuesday. The 884-page report recounts how six Pennsylvania diocese systematically covered up the long-term abuses committed by 301 priests upon one thousand children over a 70-year period, silencing victims through settlements and "the weaponization of faith."
The investigation was ordered by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and revealed hundreds of examples of "predator priests" grooming and sexually abusing children, some as young as seven years old, with the complicity of Catholic authorities, including several bishops, over seven decades.
In one instance, Father Francis "Frank" Fromholzer took advantage of his position as a religion teacher at Allentown Central Catholic High School to sexually abuse at least two teenage girls in the 1960s. One of the victims, Julianne, who is now 68 testified to the grand jury that she told her father of the abuse, but he didn’t believe her and instead beat her with a belt.
The grand jury also found that Father Edward R. Graff who served as a priest in the Allentown diocese, “raped scores of children” while practicing there, and in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Amarillo, Texas after he was sent West to conceal his PA crimes.
The report recounts: "the case of Graff is an example of dioceses that minimized the criminal conduct of one of their priests, while secretly noting the significant danger the priest posed to the public."
Shapiro said that most of the evidence in the report was cultivated from the archives of the six Pennsylvania diocese under investigation, the rest from victim testimonies.
The report says that the archives read: "like a playbook for concealing the truth: 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.’ 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."
The report called on the state of Pennsylvania to drop its statute of limitations so that victims can come forward at any age. "The laws protect most of its perpetrators and leave its victims with nothing. We say laws that do that need to change," reads the report.
The attorney general said it was the most comprehensive report on Catholic clergy sex abuse in American history.
After decades of worldwide cover-ups within the Catholic church is finally having to reckon with the thousands of child sexual abuse cases amongst the robes.
Pope Francis recently wrapped up a several months investigation into rampant sexual abuse of minors in Chile that resulted in the resignation of at least three of its bishops in June. Another 36 investigations of Chilean priests are currently underway.
An Australian archbishop was convicted in July of concealing child sex abuse in the church and was sentenced to a year in detention.
Several of the Pennsylvania dioceses issued statements apologizing to victims and saying they were taking steps to ensure any criminal behavior was stopped. "The grand jury has challenged us as a Catholic diocese to put victims first and to continue to improve ways to protect children and youth," Bishop Lawrence Persico of the Erie Diocese said in a statement.
The Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown diocese were left out of the 2018 report because they had already been extensively investigated for sexual abuse crimes.