Following the publication of a scathing report detailing decades of clerical sexual abuse and cover-up in Pennsylvania, the Vatican has called the acts “criminal and morally reprehensible,” and has doubled down on its commitment to protecting minors, particularly in cooperating with civil law enforcement.
“Victims should know that the Pope is on their side,” read an Aug. 16 statement from Vatican spokesman Greg Burke. “Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent.”
“Regarding the report made public in Pennsylvania this week, there are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow,” it said.
The abuses described in the report, the statement read, “are criminal and morally reprehensible. Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith.”
The Church, it said, “must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.”
Burke’s statement comes after the publication Aug. 14 of an in-depth report which was the result of the 40th Statewide Grand Jury investigation. Nearly 900 pages, the report identified more than 300 cases of abuser priests in six dioceses dating back to 1947. Most cases happened before the early 2000s.
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The six dioceses – Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton – combined serve more than 1.7 million Catholics. Not included in the report were the dioceses of Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnston, which have undergone previous investigations.
More than 1,000 victims were interviewed as part of the grand jury’s investigation, which began in 2016, and resulted in the uncovering of an internal culture of secrecy and cover-up in which victims were often discredited and discouraged to go to civil law enforcement, and abusers were almost collectively moved from parish to parish or offered an early retirement, with benefits and without disclosing the real reasons for their departure.
In his statement, Burke said the Vatican is taking the report seriously, and “condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors.”
However, noting how very few cases of abuse have been identified since 2002, Burke said the grand jury’s findings are consistent with the conclusions of previous studies, which show “that Catholic Church reforms in the United States drastically reduced the incidence of clergy child abuse.”
“The Holy See encourages continued reform and vigilance at all levels of the Catholic Church, to help ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults from harm,” Burke said, and stressed the need to comply with the civil law, including requirements for the mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse.
Pope Francis is well aware of how profoundly these crimes can “shake the faith and the spirt of Believers,” he said, and said the pope reiterates his call “to make every effort to create a safe environment for minors and vulnerable adults in the Church and in all of society.”