A report from a grand jury in Pennsylvania shows the extent of the Catholic Church’s child sexual abuse problem, stating that there are more than 1,000 identifiable victims across the state and that leaders in the Church have been helping the perpetuators cover their tracks for 70 years.
According to the New York Times, the grand jury’s investigation, which examined six of the eight dioceses in Pennsylvania, is the largest a government agency has undertaken so far. (The other two dioceses have previously been investigated by other grand juries, according to the Times.)
The report contains grisly details, displaying the range of the abuses endured by minors in the Church:
Most of the victims were boys; but there were girls too. Some were teens; many were prepubescent. Some were manipulated with alcohol or pornography. Some were made to masturbate their assailants, or were groped by them. Some were raped orally, some vaginally, some anally. But all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.
The Times notes that there is one example of a priest raping a girl in the hospital after she’d gotten her tonsils removed, and another of a priest who got a 17-year-old girl pregnant only to marry her—by forging a signature—and then divorce her.
The story of how it came to be is also gut-wrenching. One woman who made a suicide attempt before the jury finished deliberations:
“From her hospital bed, she asked for one thing,” the grand jury wrote in the report, “that we finish our work and tell the world what really happened.”
The publication of the jury’s findings undoubtedly brought relief to those affected by these crimes, and hopefully it leads to justice for victims of the abuse and the cover-ups. But it also opens a door (as every investigation before it has done) to a more daunting, almost mathematical question: When will the work of documenting these decades of abuse be done? The Times writes: “There has been no comprehensive measurement of the full scope of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the United States, though some have tried.” How many more victims are there, and how long has it gone on? The grand jury involved in this latest report met for two years. If their results are any indication, there a long road ahead of us—not just of bringing these abuses of power to light, but also negotiating amends for those who suffered from them.