Pennsylvania Report Shows State Complicity in Clerical Sex Abuse

The Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August—documenting more than 1,000 cases of child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years—shows that certain state law-enforcement officials worked in concert with the Catholic hierarchy to keep information from the public. In one such case, former Beaver County District Attorney Robert Masters ended all investigations into the sexual abuse of boys by members of the clergy in 1964 “in order to prevent unfavorable publicity” for the church. In response to the grand jury’s questioning of his decision to suppress evidence related to abusive priests, Masters cited “respect for the bishop,” and that he wanted the church’s support for a future political career. This does not appear to be an isolated case of governmental complicity; other examples include Richard Webb, former Carbon County District Attorney, agreeing not to prosecute a priest found in possession of child pornography if he received “treatment,” and a Pennsylvania state trooper who found a priest in Orwigsburg in a state of undress with a boy of high-school age in a car and “sent him on his way” after a brief lecture. Former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham has stated that the problem often began with the fact that many police officers were themselves Catholic, and that “you didn’t remonstrate with the guy who’s giving you absolution.” Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington and mentioned in the grand jury’s report more than 200 times, in October. The US Justice Department has opened an investigation on clerical abuse in Pennsylvania, and has begun subpoenaing the state’s dioceses.

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