Over 300 Pennsylvania Priests Accused of Child Abuse, One Given Reference to Work at Disney World

Over 300 Roman Catholic priests across six dioceses in Pennsylvania have been accused of sexually abusing at least 1,000 children while senior church officials allegedly covered up complaints for decades, a grand jury report released Tuesday says.

After an 18-month investigation into 500,000 pages of internal church documents and the testimony of dozens of witnesses, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released the landmark 1,356-page document naming the alleged “predator priests.” Their alleged abuses date back to 1947 in the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg and Scranton.

Though some accused priests retired or were put on leave, the majority continued in their jobs after being accused and many were even promoted, the report states. The priests named in the report included monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals.

“Most of the victims were boys; but there were girls too,” the report alleges. “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.”

“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 adds.

The alleged abuses detailed in the report are harrowing.

A priest in the Diocese of Erie allegedly confessed to church officials to committing anal and oral rape of at least 15 boys as young as seven years old. Another, in the Diocese of Scranton, allegedly raped a girl, got her pregnant and arranged an abortion. A priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg allegedly abused five sisters in a single family — and collected samples of the girls’ urine, pubic hair, and menstrual blood.

One priest allegedly forced a 9-year-old boy into having oral sex, then rinsed his mouth with holy water. Another priest allegedly raped a 7-year-old in the hospital, while she was recovering from having her tonsils removed.

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The report alleges that one priest who quit after years of abuse complaints asked for and was granted a letter of reference for a job at Walt Disney World, where he worked for the next 18 years.

The statute of limitations for criminal charges has run out in nearly every case, with the bulk of alleged crimes having occurred before 2000, the report states. More than 100 of the 300 named priests have already died, the report states.

“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 report states.

This is the largest report of alleged abuse and coverup within the Catholic Church to come out. A 2002 report on the Archdiocese of Boston — the journalism investigation of which was dramatized in the 2015 Oscar-winning film Spotlight — uncovered between 150 to 250 priests.

Pennsylvania has eight Catholic dioceses, encompassing about 1.7 million Catholics, the Associated Press reported.

The two Pennsylvania dioceses not covered in the report — Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown — were investigated in separate grand jury reports in 2005 and 2016, respectively. According to Tuesday’s report, over 60 allegedly abusive priests were named in Philadelphia, and about 50 were in Altoona-Johnstown.

Diocese leaders responded to the report Tuesday with expressions of remorse for the victims, the AP reported. Leaders also revealed a list of priests accused of sexual misconduct, according to the AP.

Grand jurors said in the report they are hopeful the church’s transparency is a sign of a shift. “We learned of these abusers directly from their dioceses,” they write. “Which we hope is a sign that the church is finally changing its ways. And there may be more indictments in the future; investigation continues.”

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