October 2018 Church & State | People & Events

A report by a grand jury in Pennsylvania detailing more than 1,000 cases of the sexual abuse of children by more than 300 priests in the Roman Catholic Church also implicated some government officials for failing to protect youngsters.

While the report is highly critical of church officials for covering up the abuse, it also points out that in some cases government officials were at fault as well. The report points to a few cases in which law enforcement officials knew what was going on but failed to act.

In a case from Beaver County, officials with the district attorney’s office declined to press charges against a priest “in order to prevent unfavorable publicity” for the church. In Carbon County, a priest was found in possession of child pornography, yet local officials did nothing, and church officials sent him away for “treatment.”

In Lawrence County, a credible report of child molestation was turned over to the police but never followed up on “out of respect for the priest.” In Pittsburgh, a county attorney actually joined forces with a church attorney to browbeat a mother who wanted to report instances of abuse against her two sons.

Perhaps most shockingly, the report details one incident from an unnamed county during which the district attorney’s office, after receiving a report of sexual offenses by a priest against a child, wrote a fawning letter to the bishop saying the office would be “most happy to co-operate with Your Excellency in reaching a resolution to this matter” and offering additional forms of help.

Two years ago, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office issued a report about pedophilia by priests in the diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. That report noted that in several cases, city and county officials drop­ped investigations after pressure from the bishop, who openly boast­ed about his influence over local office-holders.

Church officials insist that they are working to resolve the problem, but they are also doing all they can to stop Pennsylvania lawmakers from amending state law to make it easier for victims to seek redress by extending the statute of limitations for sex offenses. (Church officials also tried, unsuccessfully, to block the release of the grand jury’s report.)

Several states are moving to ensure that victims of clerical abuse are able to seek justice. The New York Times reported last month that the attorney general’s office in New York has subpoenaed all eight Catholic dioceses in the state to determine whether church officials covered up allegations of sexual abuse of children. In addition, the attorney general’s office in New Jersey has announced it is launching a criminal investigation.

Officials in Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and New Mexico are also seeking records from church officials.