The latest report of Catholic clergy abuse, released Tuesday by a grand jury in Pennsylvania, is so sickening there are hardly words to describe it. Just reading about the actions of the priests - and the systematic cover up of their abuses - is enough to make one shudder in disgust and anger.
"Whips, Violence and Sadism"
Bishops and other church leaders knowingly covered up abuse committed by more than 300 priests over a 70-year period. But this went far beyond inappropriate touching or harassment.
According to the report, priests used "whips, violence and sadism" as they engaged in violent child rape, created child pornography on church property, tagged victims they believed to be ripe for further molestation with gold cross necklaces, and formed cabals of abusers to protect one another. But that's just scratching the surface of how sick this operation got.
In one instance, clergy collected pubic hair and menstrual blood samples from a family of five sisters, all of whom had reported prior abuse but were ignored. A priest who raped at least 15 boys some as young as seven was later hailed as "a person of candor and sincerity" by a friendly bishop sympathetic to his "addiction."
Another received a reference letter for his next job at Walt Disney World.
Past Crimes Finally Unearthed
The 884-page report is the result of a two-year investigation spanning Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses. It details how abuse claims were stashed away in so-called secret church archives, making it all but impossible to discipline priests or report allegations to law enforcement. In all, these "predator priests" were responsible for abusing more than 1,000 child victims - perhaps far more.
"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. 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 grand jury wrote.
"Today, Pennsylvanians can learn the extent of sexual abuse in the dioceses and for the first time we can begin to understand the systematic cover up by church leaders that followed," declared Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro at a news conference in Harrisburg. Several of the accused clergy managed to have their names redacted from the report temporarily, citing inaccuracies - something Shapiro wasn't thrilled about. "Every redaction represents an incomplete story of abuse that deserves to be told."
Some of those heartbreaking accounts were made public in emotional video testimonies played prior to the news conference.
"It doesn't ever go away, it has an effect on you for the rest of your life," declared 47-year-old victim Shaun Dougherty. "This has absolutely destroyed me." Another 83-year-old victim, Robert Corby, claimed his abuser robbed him of all future affection for his wife and children. "My children, I couldn't hold or hug. (He) took that away from me."
Have Things Really Changed?
Clergy abuse has done untold damage to the reputation of the Catholic Church. The question now: are these issues truly in the past? Are kids today safe in these parishes?
Church attorney Matt Haverstick argues that yes, reforms have taken hold and rooted out abusers. "The Catholic Church discussed in the grand jury report no longer exists, and hasn't existed for a long time," he says. "Today's Church has listened and learned from its mistakes, and its reforms over the past two decades keep children safe."
But others aren't so sure. Can this vile pattern of behavior that ran so deep within the organization really be extinguished so easily? How is it possible to ensure that every single predatory priest is removed?
And even if the reforms are successful, it is of little comfort to the thousands of victims who will never see their abusers face justice. Thanks to Pennsylvania's statute of limitations for child abuse crimes, it's too late to pursue charges against the abusers. "As a consequence of the cover-up, almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted," the grand jury explains. "But that is not to say there are no more predators."