THE CATHOLIC CHURCH’S decades-long practice of enabling and systematically covering up the rape and molestation of children by priests is by now sickeningly familiar. Yet the scale of abuse; the breadth and depth of trauma inflicted by predators wearing Roman collars; and the coldbloodedness of senior church figures zealous in their resolve to protect the church but indifferent to the suffering of minors, retain their power to shock the conscience.
So it was Tuesday when Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court released a massive report on decades of alleged abuse in six of the state’s eight dioceses, where nearly 2 million Catholics live today. The report, the culmination of a two-year grand jury investigation supervised by the state attorney general’s office, lays out what amounts to a criminal conspiracy, breathtaking in its scope, reaching from parishes and parochial schools to the Vatican.
The report names some 300 accused predator priests, who allegedly abused at least 1,000 victims. The jurors noted they stuck to cases that were documented and provable; they said the real number, both of priests and victims, is likely much higher. Yet even as the findings were published, the coverup continues: The report is heavily redacted, owing to ongoing litigation by unidentified clergymen and others seeking to block publication of certain names. That, Attorney General Josh Shapiro noted, is a coverup of a decades-long coverup.
The conspiracy — as in Boston and practically every major city in the United States and many overseas — involved bishops, archbishops and even cardinals. Among those named in the report is Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington who was bishop of Pittsburgh for 18 years, until 2006. Mr. Wuerl vowed zero tolerance for predator priests following the Boston Globe’s revelations, in 2002, of widespread abuse and coverups. Yet the Pennsylvania report documents several cases in which Mr. Wuerl seems more interested in protecting than in fully exposing clergymen who had molested children.
Even as apologists for the Vatican and the clergy continue peddling the myth that the Catholic Church’s pedophile scandals simply reflect society’s problems, the weight of evidence is overwhelming proof to the contrary. Thousands of American priests weaponized faith, as Mr. Shapiro said, taking advantage of their status and access to children to prey on them. They left uncountable thousands of victims in their wake.
Pope Francis lately has made some positive moves, including accepting the resignations of bishops in Chile and removing Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, following allegations of abuse. But the pope has proved unwilling and possibly unable to take the sweeping steps required to implement a genuine zero-tolerance policy. In the United States, the church continues to block legislative reforms in state capitals that would allow victims and prosecutors to seek justice for abuse that occurred decades ago. Despite the massive landscape of sexual assaults painted by the grand jury, it produced criminal charges against just two priests — both because many of the accused predator priests are already dead and because most of the allegations are too old to prosecute under state law.
The Pennsylvania report is the most comprehensive X-ray to date of the church’s corruption in one state. It should not be the last. Even after more than 15 years of revelations, there is more to know — and much more to fix.