Subscribe to Breaking News emails

You have successfully subscribed to the Breaking News email.

Subscribe today to be the first to to know about breaking news and special reports.

Over 300 'predator priests' in Pennsylvania accused of abuse in grand jury report

More than 1,000 child victims were identifiable from the church's own records, according to the report.
by Daniella Silva /  / Updated 

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

A scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report released Tuesday reveals decades of child abuse allegations against more than 300 accused “predator priests” as well as claims that Roman Catholic Church leaders covered up the crimes and obstructed justice in order to avoid scandal.

More than 1,000 child victims were identifiable from the church's own records, according to the report.

"We believe that the real number — of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward — is in the thousands," the grand jury said.

"Today, Pennsylvanians can learn the extent of sexual abuse in the dioceses and for the first time we can begin to understand the systematic cover up by church leaders that followed," Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference in Harrisburg on Tuesday, the deadline set by the state’s Supreme Court for the release of the 884-page report with some of the names of the accused clergy temporarily redacted.

"Let me be very clear — my office is not satisfied with the release of a redacted report," he added. "Every redaction represents an incomplete story of abuse that deserves to be told."

Among the most horrific findings in the grand jury report:

  • A ring of predatory priests that allegedly manufactured child pornography on diocese property and used whips, violence and sadism on their victims.
  • That same group of priests gave boys they favored gold cross necklaces, which, the report states, "were a signal to other predators that the children ... were optimal targets for further victimization."
  • One priest allegedly abused five sisters in a single family despite prior abuse reports that were never acted on. The priest collected samples of the girls’ urine, pubic hair and menstrual blood, according to the report.
  • Lack of discipline for priests who admitted to abuse: A priest who confessed to raping at least 15 boys, some as young as 7. A bishop later said that the priest was "a person of candor and sincerity" and complimented him "for the progress he has made" in controlling his "addiction."
  • A priest who quit after years of child abuse complaints and asked for — and received — a reference letter for his next job — at Walt Disney World.

The report said that abuse complaints were kept in the church's so-called secret archive and church officials worked to hide incidents, failed to discipline priests or report the allegations to law enforcement.

"Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all," the report said.

Shapiro said the report showed a “systematic cover up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.”

"The abuse scarred every diocese, the cover-up was sophisticated," he said.

Three victims of the alleged abuse gave emotional testimony in a short video played before the news conference.

"It doesn’t ever go away, it has an effect on you for the rest of your life," said Shaun Dougherty, 48, adding, "This has absolutely destroyed me."

Robert Corby, 83, said the abuse he suffered left him unable to be affectionate with his family and his wife and children have suffered because of it.

"My children, I couldn't hold or hug," he said, adding that his alleged abuser "took that away from me."

The report also faulted Cardinal Donald Wuerl, a former longtime bishop of Pittsburgh for his role in allegedly concealing sexual abuse. The high-profile archbishop of Washington released a statement Tuesday saying he “acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse," according to the Associated Press.

The report, which was the result of a roughly two-year investigation, had remained under seal during pending court challenges from clergy. Clergy members had until last week to seek to have their names redacted from the long-anticipated report.

An attorney for the Dioceses of Harrisburg and Greenberg said in a statement to NBC News that, “The Dioceses I’ve gotten to know so well over the past two years are incredibly sorry for the harm to these survivors."

"But the Catholic Church discussed in the grand jury report no longer exists, and hasn’t existed for a long time," lawyer Matt Haverstick said in the statement. "Today’s Church has listened and learned from its mistakes, and its reforms over the past two decades keep children safe."

Victims and survivors of child sexual abuse within the church and their families were in attendance at the Tuesday news conference.

The investigation spans the Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses. Some of the dioceses had already released the names of clergy members accused of child abuse ahead of Tuesday's announcement.

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court had agreed to consider claims from priests that the report is inaccurate and releasing it with identifying information would violate their constitutional rights and set oral arguments for the issue in September, according to Shapiro.

And at the end of last month, a priest with the Greensburg Diocese, the Rev. John Sweeney, pleaded guilty to sexually molesting a 10-year-old boy. Sweeney was the first priest convicted as a result of the grand jury, and a priest in Erie has charges pending, but the state’s statute of limitations for child abuse could prevent some prosecutions, especially with many of the allegations going back decades.

"As a consequence of the cover-up, almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted," the grand jury wrote in the report. "But that is not to say there are no more predators."

The grand jury also gave a series of recommendations to stop abuse going forward.

The report called on the Pennsylvania legislature to “stop shielding child sexual predators” and eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing children.

"We want future victims to know they will always have the force of the criminal law behind them, no matter how long they live," the report said.

Other recommendations included a law that would let older victims sue the diocese for damage inflicted on their lives by the child abuse, improvements to the law for mandating reporting of abuse, a law saying no nondisclosure agreements can apply to criminal investigations, saying that the church had been using “quite a few confidentiality agreements” going back decades.

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
  • Contributors
  • Associated Press
MORE FROM news