[Editor’s note: As shocking as the huge scale of the Pennsylvania child abuse scandal i, involving thousands of children and hundreds of priests, it is only the very tippity tip of an immense iceberg that reaches all the way to the Vatican. The Catholic Church long ago institutionalised the practice of covering up the most vile and horrific abuse of children by it’s clergy to the point where they are experts at it, enabling paedophile priests to enjoy lifelong careers of abuse, sodomy, torture and even murder, often with a global scope as they are shifted around from one place to the next to avoid being exposed and brought to justice.
If they can get away with this scale of abuse in Pennsylvania, just imagine how much worse they will have been able to get away with in less developed countries across central and south America, Africa, Asia etc. As the Philly Inquirer points out, so many Catholic priests have been exposed as abusers and paedophiles that it is reasonable to assume that the great majority of Catholic priests are abusive paedophiles and only a small minority are not involved.
All of this adds up to the inescapable conclusion that the Catholic Church is more of a club for perverts and paedophiles than a real religious institution, that it is utterly corrupt and downright evil.
How much longer can this most rotten of institutions survive given that it is inevitable that more and more of the victims will start to come forward seeking justice, that other jurisdictions will be pressured to follow Pennsylvania’s example and carry out proper investigations?
It might not happen in my lifetime, but it seems inevitable that one day, the whole rotten edifice, including the pope, the Vatican and all the cardinals will be revealed to be entirely complicit and utterly guilty, not only of wholescale child abuse and paedophilia, but other awful crimes too, and that one day, mankind can free itself of what has been, for almost 2000 years, a terrible stain and great evil that has done more to oppress and abuse it’s adherents than any other organisation in history. Ian]
The Philadephia Inquirer
Pa. Catholic Church sex abuse report names hundreds of priests, accuses leaders of cover-up: ‘They hid it all.’
Top Roman Catholic leaders in Pennsylvania covered up decades of child sex abuse involving more than 1,000 victims and hundreds of priests, according to a long-awaited grand jury report released Tuesday.
Capping what may be the most comprehensive examination yet of clergy sex abuse across a single state, the nearly 900-page document accuses church officials in six Pennsylvania dioceses of routinely prioritizing their institution over the welfare of children in their care.
The allegations stretch back to the 1940s, detailing child rapes and groping that mirrored the reports that have roiled the church worldwide. But the document includes several uniquely disturbing accounts of its own — including one of a 1970s pedophile and child pornography ring in Pittsburgh among priests who whipped their victims and took photos of one boy as he posed naked as if on the cross.
One priest in Southwestern Pennsylvania is said to have sexually abused a boy in a confessional. Another, from Allentown, allegedly forced a boy to give him oral sex and then cleansed the child’s mouth with holy water. Two priests impregnated teens; one urged an abortion, the other arranged a secret marriage.
In all, more than 300 priests were singled out – though some names remain redacted amid legal wrangling over the fairness of the investigation and the public report. Dozens of church superiors — including some now in prominent posts nationally — were also named as complicit.
“All of [the victims] were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institutions above all,” the report says. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible not only did nothing: They hid it all.”
The abuse “was rampant and widespread,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference in the state Capitol. “It touched every diocese, and it is horrifying.”
Many of those accused — including bishops implicated in alleged cover-ups — disputed the findings in responses attached to the report.
The panel’s assertions are likely to fuel long-simmering battles in Harrisburg, including debates over the fairness of the state’s grand jury system and stalled legislation that would allow childhood victims to sue their abusers and others decades after an assault.
The report also comes amid a new wave of accusations that have upended Catholic congregations worldwide and resulted in the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, formerly the archbishop of Washington.
Among those named by the Pennsylvania grand jury was McCarrick’s successor in Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, a longtime Pittsburgh bishop and one of Pope Francis’ prominent U.S. advisers.
Wuerl, who took over the Western Pennsylvania diocese in 1988, was faulted by the grand jury as failing to protect children from predators and withholding key information from parishioners during his two decades there.
Wuerl denied the claims Tuesday. His spokesman, Ed McFadden, called the investigation a “flawed process” steered “unwaveringly toward a predetermined result” — a statement that echoed concerns raised by nearly two dozen other clergy members who have disputed the report’s accuracy in court and fought to have their names, at least temporarily, redacted.
“In factual ways large and small, the Attorney General’s Office was more concerned with getting this report out than getting it right,” McFadden said.
One woman, the report says, tried to commit suicide days after her testimony and later, from her hospital bed, urged grand jurors to finish their investigation.
Shapiro said he stood by the findings, the result of a two-year investigation by his office.
Despite the wide-ranging criminal behavior the attorney general outlined Tuesday, no new prosecutions are expected to emerge.
Two priests were indicted at earlier stages of the investigation. Many of the accused are either dead or long since removed from ministry, their offenses now beyond the state’s statute of limitations for sex crimes. Some had previously been prosecuted, or the accusations against them made public years ago.
Still, in its scope and breadth, the grand jury’s report was remarkable. The investigation drew upon testimony from dozens of witness and “secret archives” of priest abuse complaints obtained from the Dioceses of Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Erie, and Greensburg – together home to more than 1.7 million Roman Catholics.
Pennsylvania’s other dioceses – Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown – were not included because previous grand juries had already scrutinized their handling of clergy sex-abuse claims.
But the state’s largest city and only archdiocese weren’t completely absent. Some of the accused priests at one point in their careers made stops in Philadelphia; one allegation recounted a boy being abused at one priest’s family home in the city.
Several names fleetingly referenced in the report — including the late Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua and his former aide Bishop Edward Cullen — were church leaders in Philadelphia before or after service in other dioceses.
In many respects, the tactics described Tuesday mirrored those of the 2005 report that assailed the Philadelphia Archdiocese during their tenures here.
Priests preyed on vulnerable children, and their superiors either ignored or hid allegations while shuffling abusers from parish to parish. Lawsuits filed by accusers often ended in strict confidentiality agreements, ensuring their silence for years.
Problem priests were cycled through church-owned treatment centers — including the St. John Vianney Center in Downingtown. Tuesday’s report dismissed the therapy at such facilities, saying it largely existed to “launder accused priests” and “provide plausible deniability to the bishops and permitted hundreds of known offenders to return to ministry.”
In Allentown, grand jurors accused Msgr. Anthony Muntone of discounting a plea from a priest reporting he had molested a 12-year-old in 1982 and asking for help. Instead, the panel said, Muntone concluded “the experiences [would] not necessarily be a horrendous trauma to the victim” and allowed the priest to remain in active ministry for two decades.
response to the report’s findings, Muntone denied he ever put children at risk and said all actions he took came after consultation with the diocese legal counsel.
In Erie, grand jurors assailed Bishop Donald Trautman for lauding the Rev. Chester Gawronski for his “many acts of kindness” and “deep faith” even after he admitted to fondling at least 12 boys during what he described as “cancer checks.”
Erie Catholic Bishop Emeritus Donald Trautman, left, and Erie Catholic Bishop Lawrence T. Persico celebrate Communion during Mass at St. Peter Cathedral in Erie on Feb. 11, 2018.
Trautman, in a statement, characterized many of the accusations against him as false.
And in the Pittsburgh Diocese, the report suggests, church officials weren’t the only ones out to avoid public embarrassment. Former Beaver County District Attorney Robert Master told the grand jury that he proactively shut down an investigation into an accused priest in the 1960s, hoping to “prevent unfavorable publicity” and win support for his political career.
Response from church leaders began even before the report’s release. Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Harrisburg and Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie sought to blunt the impact this month by opening their own archives and releasing names of all priests against whom there were “credible claims of abuse.” Other dioceses followed suit Tuesday.
All the bishops noted that most of the accusations predated their tenures by decades and stressed steps their diocese had taken to improve, including instituting a zero-tolerance policy in investigating abuse allegations.
But their responses to specific allegations varied. Bishop David Zubik in Pittsburgh asserted that “he knew of no cover-ups in his three decades” there.
Meanwhile, Persico — the lone bishop to testify before the grand jury — insisted that “apologies and policies … are not enough.”
“We are committed to publishing the abuses of the past and to being transparent with our decisions going forward,” he said.
As church leaders were grappling with how to address their congregations, state lawmakers were gearing up for a battle over the report’s recommendations — including suspending laws barring victims from suing their abusers decades after their assaults occurred.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) reiterated his support for a bill he authored to eliminate the civil and criminal statute of limitations for child sex abuse in some cases, saying it “takes a crucial step forward to help protect victims.”
But Scarnati has been opposed to making any change to the statute retroactive, arguing that such a move would be unconstitutional and could lead to hundreds of lawsuits against the church.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R., Indiana) said he expects to schedule a vote on Scarnati’s bill this fall, but indicated that discussions over its provisions are ongoing.
Even with that fight ahead, accusers and their advocates described Tuesday’s win — exposing abuse kept secret over decades — as victory enough for now.
“I knew the truth would come out eventually,” said James Faluszczak, a former priest from the Erie Diocese who says he was abused by a priest as a child, and who cried as Shapiro described the report. “I thank God, like, I think, all the other victims, that we’ve had this opportunity to have our voice finally heard.”
The Philadephia Inquirer
Priests ran child porn ring in Pittsburgh diocese: state AG’s grand jury report
George said he never discussed the nude Polaroids, or the twisted, secret gifts he and the other kids had been given decades ago by the men who preyed on them. These weren’t the kinds of things you could share without feeling humiliated, especially if you grew up tough, like he did on the South Side of Pittsburgh.
But you can’t outrun your nightmares forever. So on Dec. 17 — a week before Roman Catholics around the world celebrated Christmas — George met with a Pennsylvania grand jury and told it about the Rev. George Zirwas, a friendly young priest who once took him to a rectory in Munhall, a borough about 25 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, and introduced him to some friends: The Revs. Francis Pucci, Richard Zula, and Francis Luddy.
During a conversation about religious statues, the priests told George to get onto a bed and remove his shirt, and strike a pose like Jesus on the cross. Then they instructed him to strip off his pants and underwear, according to a grand jury report released Tuesday by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
In the unnerving moments that followed, George claimed that Zula or Pucci began taking photos of him on a Polaroid camera. All of the priests giggled — and then added the photos of George to a collection of photos of other teen boys. According to the grand jury, these men and another priest, the Rev. Robert Wolk, were part of a “ring of predatory priests” who raped children, shared intelligence on potential victims, and manufactured child pornography in parishes and rectories.
“This group of priests used whips, violence, and sadism in raping their victims,” reads one line of the nearly 900-page document, which outlines horrific abuse that occurred in Pittsburgh and five other Catholic dioceses across the state.
The men gave a specific gift to children they favored, something they could wear that would mark them as prime targets for abuse. Zirwas “had told me that they, the priests, would give their boys, their altar boys, or their favorite boys these crosses,” George told the grand jury. “So he gave me a big gold cross to wear.”
He remembered the rectory photo session as a degrading experience. “It is still really hard to get it out there that you were in a room when you were 14 or 15 and getting naked pictures taken from priests,” he said.
Zirwas’ cohorts were all eventually exposed as child predators. Zula, Wolk, and Pucci were arrested in Allegheny County in 1988 on unrelated child sex-abuse charges.
According to Tuesday’s report, Zula “engaged in violent sexual activity” with a child at a rectory in the Pittsburgh Diocese. Church records further described parties Zula hosted for children that featured marijuana, alcohol, oral sex, attempted anal sex, and whips. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 1990, and died last year.
Wolk was accused of sexually assaulting two adolescent brothers over a six-year period, pleaded guilty to involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, and was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison. Charges against Pucci were dropped because a statute of limitations had expired. Both Wolk and Pucci left the priesthood, as did Luddy, who was sued by an abuse survivor in the 1990s.
Zirwas met George in the 1970s, when the priest was assigned to St. Adalbert parish, where George had been an altar boy. Zirwas was in his 20s, and seemed to George’s family like a positive influence; he took the teen on trips and even taught him to drive. But twisted motives lurked behind his helpful persona, as other families in the Pittsburgh area would learn.
In 1987, the diocese was contacted by the family of “a little boy” who claimed he’d been inappropriately touched by Zirwas, the report details. Then-Bishop Anthony J. Bevilacqua refrained from taking action, but when another abuse complaint arrived a year later, Zirwas was sent for an evaluation. Still, he served at other parishes in the state until 1994, when he was placed on a leave for “personal reasons” as additional allegations swirled.
Zirwas was returned to active ministry by Bevilacqua’s successor, Bishop Donald Wuerl, who is now a cardinal in Washington. But Zirwas was benched again after another victim told the diocese that Zirwas had performed oral sex on him when he was 15.
“Today, we would have handled the Zirwas case much differently,” an attorney for the Pittsburgh Diocese wrote in a response to the grand jury report.
After being placed on leave for a second time, Zirwas moved to Florida and then fled to Cuba. In the spring of 2001 in Havana, at a property he reportedly shared with another person, Zirwas was found strangled. He was 47.
In a statement released Thursday, Wuerl lamented clergy abuse as a “terrible tragedy,” and argued that he acted with diligence and concern for sex-abuse victims when he was a bishop.
But he had struck a different tone in 2001, when he presided over Zirwas’ funeral in Pennsylvania. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Wuerl described Zirwas as a kind man who’d preached a message of salvation through faith in Jesus.
“A priest is a priest,” Wuerl said that day. “Once he is ordained, he’s a priest forever.”