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I'm numb! 301 Catholic priests named in Pennsylvania sex scandal

I'm numb! 301 Catholic priests named in Pennsylvania sex scandal
There are not enough words to describe my horror


By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
August 17, 2018

I'm numb.

The revelation of hundreds of Roman Catholic priests sexually abusing perhaps thousands of children in just a portion of the State of Pennsylvania is mind, heart and soul numbing. I am reduced to tears while falling on my face before the Lord pleading for His mercy. My prayer is tears, words do not come.

I'm a journalist. As a religion writer, I know many Catholic priests, several bishops and at least a cardinal or two. Although I have had a several chances to cover the Pope while visiting the United States (John Pau Il in New Orleans and St. Louis; and Francis in Philadelphia), I never have. It just didn't interest me. Obviously, I know more Episcopal priests and bishops as well as an Anglican primate or two to boot.

This is a story I never thought I would be writing. This is a story no journalist should ever have to write. But now both the church press and secular media have a hold of the story, a rapidly expanding story with more twists and turns than Lombard Street in San Francisco.


The Boston Globe was the first to ferret out the news that Bernard Cardinal Law (IX Boston) was shuffling pedophile Catholic priests from one parish to another, thus endangering mainly children. This came about because on the first day on the job, new Globe editor Marty Baron, a Jew who was not intimidated by Cardinal Law and the Catholic Church in a very Catholic town, wanted to look deeply into a Sunday column which identified credible allegations that Fr. John Geoghan had abused more than 80 children from six parishes over a span of three decades and that the Archdiocese of Boston was covering up the predator-priest's misdeeds and that Cardinal Law knew all about it.

The new editor learned that documents supporting the allegations were under court seal and he wanted to use the Freedom of the Press' First Amendment rights to crack open that seal. Investigating the story was picked up by the four-person Spotlight team and it took more than half a year to develop their ground-breaking story, which first saw light on Jan. 6, 2002.

The Spotlight team turned to Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine priest/monk turned psychotherapist, for the scaffolding of their research on the sexual activity of celibate Roman Catholic priests. Skip, who died on Aug. 8, wrote in his 1995 book Sex, Priests, and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis: "I estimate that at any one time 50 percent of priests are practicing celibacy."

Sipe explained that most of the priests were having sex with adults, but this "creates a culture of secrecy that tolerates and even protects pedophiles."

As a result of his systematic study of the priest sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, Sipe made these shocking estimates: "Thirty percent of priests are involved in heterosexual relationships, associations, experimentation or patterns of sexual behavior. Fifteen percent of priests are involved with homosexual relationships. Six percent of priests involve themselves with minors."

The Globe's efforts initially identified 87 priests which fell within the estimated six percent range of pedophile priests out of 1,500 clergy then living in the Boston Archdiocese. The public revelation of abusive priests and the Archdiocesan coverup forced Cardinal Law's resignation. Throughout the year 2002, the Globe published more than 600 stories of priestly sexual abuse and uncovered that there were 249 priests and religious brothers, dating back to the 1920s, who were failing to live up to their very public Vows of Chasity. Eventually, the Archdiocese of Boston paid out in excess of $100 million to more than 500 abuse victims, including $10 million to the 86 children preyed upon by Fr. Geoghan.

In 2003, the Boston Globe picked up a Pulitzer Prize in Public Service for Spotlight's "courageous, comprehensive coverage in its disclosures of sexual abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Church."


The Globe story sent shock waves through the American Catholic Church, forcing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to grapple with the problem.

The problem first surfaced in 1984 when a priestly sexual abuse scandal cropped up in the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana. At the time, local reporters sniffing out the story were painted as "vultures of yellow journalism" and the mainstream media would not touch the story with a 10-foot pole.

Even the USCCB, then called the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, was made aware of the Louisiana sex scandal in a 1985 report co-authored by a Dominican canon lawyer, Thomas Doyle, OP, warning the bishops about the medical and legal issues of the priestly pedophilia cases, and warned a national scandal would occur if the American hierarchy did not effectively deal with it. The Dominican priest, who is well versed in the canonical and pastoral dimensions of the priestly sexual abuse problem, said that pedophile priests in the American Catholic Church were a "$1 billion liability." The NCCB gave the report short shrift, shelved it and did nothing until the problem cropped up again 17 years later.

In 2002, at its June meeting in Dallas, Texas, the American bishops tried to respond to the Boston sex scandal by issuing a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, dubbed the Dallas Charter.

The Dallas Charter was designed to provide a "safe environment" for all children and youth participating in activities sponsored by the Church. Wikipedia explains that "the thrust of the charter was the adoption of a 'zero tolerance' policy for sexual abuse. The USCCB instituted reforms to prevent future abuse by requiring background checks for Church employees. They now require dioceses faced with an allegation to alert the authorities, conduct an investigation and remove the accused from duty."

Interestingly, the bishops exempted themselves from the Dallas Charter, while the sexual abuse of young boys and girls, adult seminarians and women by predatory priests continued under their collective watches as they turned blind eyes and deaf ears to mounting evidence of the cancer of aggressive priestly sexual abuse within their dioceses and archdioceses in parishes, rectories, schools and seminaries.


In 2004, the USCCB commissioned the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to conduct a comprehensive study based on surveys completed by the Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States.

The John Jay Report indicated that some 11,000 allegations had been made against 4,392 United States priests between 1950--2002. Statistics showed that 81% of the abuses were male and 19% were female. A total of 22% were children under 11-years-old with a majority of the victims (51%) being between 11 and 14. Another 27% were from 15 to 17 years when first abused.

More than 10 years after the implementation of the Dallas Charter and the release of the results of the John Jay Report, the president of Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, Francesco Cesareo, warned the USCCB: "Every time we learn about a situation that results from a decision not in conformity with the [Dallas] Charter the commendable efforts of the bishops to address the issue of sexual abuse are compromised. These instances further erode the credibility of the bishops."

At that time, the Diocese of Lincoln had yet to come into compliance with the Dallas Carter and credible abuse allegations were cropping up in Kansas City, Missouri; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and the Twin Cities of Minneapolis & St. Paul in Minnesota.

In 2012, the National Catholic Reporter wrote: "Terence McKiernan, head of a nonprofit that documents the church's response to sexual abuse, said that Cesareo's presentation was 'not adequate to the dire situation in which the USCCB finds itself.' He said the bishops should vote to censure bishops in the dioceses which fail to follow the Dallas Charter "zero tolerance" policy.

Basically, the USCCB refused to be proactive in protecting the people in the pews, preferring to protect its own -- the bishops, archbishops and cardinals who fill its ranks.

Fast forward another 16 years and another predatory priest scandal is hitting the fan. This time the USCCB might be forced to put its own House of Bishops in order.

In the intervening time, one prelate, Missouri Bishop Robert Finn (V Kansas City-St. Joseph), was criminally convicted for failure to report suspected child abuse within his diocese. He is the first sitting American Catholic bishop to face criminal charges in the child sex abuse scandal rocking the Catholic Church. In September 2012, Finn was convicted on one charge and sentenced to two years of probation.

As a result of Bishop Finn's sole criminal conviction, WCVB reported that Cardinal Law's successor, Seán Cardinal O'Malley, OFM Cap. (X Boston) said Bishop Finn would be disqualified from teaching Sunday school in the Archdiocese of Boston.


In reporting the now fast breaking story of yet another clerical sex abuse scandal, EWTN's Raymond Arroyo on The World Over said: "Another sad chapter in the Church's history of clerical abuse is playing out in Pennsylvania."

In 2016, the Pennsylvania Attorney General launched a grand jury probe into six Keystone State Catholic dioceses including: Allentown, Scranton, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Erie. The bishops dove for cover and the poem Bishop Speak written by Richard Sipe in his book I Confess aptly describes what happens when bishops try to cover their tracks.

"The bishop said to the curate:
'I only lie when I have to.'
Religious tone of righteousness
preserving status, image and funds.

'You can trust me --
We speak for God.
Keep Silent. No sin to save
the Church from scandal.'

Bishop repeated:
'Only when I have to -- '
Power trumps all fact or truth.
Expediency, not truth, rules.
... "

The Pennsylvania bishops tried to cover their tracks and they were caught. Wednesday (Aug. 15), Pennsylvania District Attorney Josh Shapiro, a Jew who is also not afraid of the Catholic Church, released a scathing, albeit redacted, 884-page report detailing the predatory sexual abuse of young boys and little girls. He named names, individually calling out 301 abusive priests and he highlighted abusive situations, including that of an 18-month-old baby girl.

During his live stream press (45-minute) conference at the state capitol building in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania Attorney General was surrounded by two dozen abuse survivors, mostly women. They cried, wiped tears and clung to each other as their abuse stories were repeated, bringing up long-ago painful childhood memories.

He said more than 400 priests were initially identified in the more than 500,000 pages of secret internal diocesan documents and records, along with hours of personal testimony. Some of the allegations didn't hold water, but others were viable. However, in July, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, bowing to pressure from the dioceses seeking to prevent the "largest and most comprehensive report into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church ever produced in the United States" seeing the light of day, ruled that some names and incidences could be blacked out.

Two dozen clergy named in the documents and the final report filed suit in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to block the release of the Grand Jury report. The news media counter sued stating that the report was a "matter of extraordinary public importance" and needed to be made public. The Supreme Court compromised and allowed a redacted version to be released, shielding the names of those who filed suit.

In September, Shapiro is headed back to court to try and overturn the redactions. He will leave no stone unturned in his quest to shine the spotlight on duplicitous bishops and their dioceses.

"Let me be very clear. My office is not satisfied with the release of a 'redacted report.' Every redaction represents an incomplete story of abuse that deserves to be told." He emphatically said. "You can be certain that we will fight variously to remove every redaction and tell every story of abuse and expose every cover."

The 23-member grand jury used the 2002 Boston Globe Spotlight report as its templet in unearthing the diocesan deceit and lies and getting down to the truth. In their exhaustive search, the grand jury listened to attorneys, prosecutors and FBI agents. The group also built upon a 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury report that uncovered more than 60 abusive priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and a 2016 Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown report, which found another 50 predator priests.

It was in examining the Philadelphia and Altoona dioceses that the Attorney General realized that Catholic clergy abuse scandal was not just an isolated and regional problem, but it was much more pervasive, spreading across the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Coupling the newly-released grand jury report with the earlier Philadelphia and Altoona-Jamestown findings "painted a complete picture of abuse and coverup" in all eight Catholic dioceses in the State of Pennsylvania home to 3.5 million Catholics who are served by more than 2,100 diocesan priests.

"The abuse scarred every diocese. The coverup was sophisticated and all the while church leadership kept records of the abuse and the coverup," Shapiro explained. "These documents from the dioceses own 'secret archives' formed the backbone of this investigation, corroborating accounts of victims and illustrating the organized cover up of senior church officials (bishops) that stretched, in some cases, all the way to the Vatican."

In addition to identifying more than 400 abusing priests, more than one thousand sexually abused children were also identified. However, Shapiro feels that number could be in the multiple thousands because many victims have not come forward through shame or fear or they have died.

"While the list of priests is long, we don't think we got them all," the Grand Jury wrote. "We feel certain that many victims never came forward and that the dioceses did not create written records every single time they heard something about abuse."

The Pennsylvania attorney general highlighted seven specific points of the report. (1) the unprecedented scope of the investigation (2) the list of abuses diocese by diocese; (3) criminal charges levied as a result of the report; (4) the systematic coverup by church leaders; (5) the weaponization of faith; (6) the failure of law enforcement; and (7) the Grand Jury's recommendations.

"The Church showed a complete distain for victims. The pattern was abuse, deny and coverup," Shapiro concluded. "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."


"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 for decades." the Pennsylvania Attorney General explained. "Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops and cardinals have mostly been protected. Many have been promoted. ... Bishop Wuerl is now Cardinal Wuerl ..."

Again, the latest revelation of sexual abuse by Catholic priests sent shockwaves across the Catholic world and landed a bombshell into the USCCB. One of their own, Donald Cardinal Wuerl, was mentioned more than 200 times when he was the XII Bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988-2006 before he was translated to the Archdiocese of Washington, DC and created a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI. The Grand Jury found that 99 Pittsburgh priests were found to be abusive, of which 32 of them were in the diocese during the time of then Bishop Wuerl's tenure. There were also 19 new cases of abuse discovered during his stay in Pittsburgh.

Cardinal Wuerl is ducking for cover and is categorically denying the documented allegations of his complicity in his former diocese's massive coverup. He has secured the services of a premier high-powered legal firm to defend his honor.

"While I understand this report may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse," the Cardinal explained. "I sincerely hope that a just assessment of my actions, past and present, and my continuing commitment to the protection of children will dispel any notions otherwise made by this report."

The Grand Jury also found abusive priests in all the other dioceses, including: Allentown 37; Scranton 59; Harrisburg 45; Greensburg 20; and Erie 41.

Monsignor Daniel DiNardo was also a priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh during Bishop Wuerl's episcopate. Now the former Pennsylvania monsignor is the Cardinal-Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, as well as being the current president of the USCCB.

The USCCB's top leader seems to have been totally blindsided by the unfolding priestly sex scandals, starting with the revelation of the raping of seminarians by Theodore Cardinal McCarrick.

Cardinal DiNardo has issued several statements as the fast-moving story unfolded and, in an EWTN interview, he was clearly uncomfortable, even with softball questions. He could not look the camera in the eye and his eyes were dancing all over the room. His head drops as he looks away and then he twists his head as he stumbled for words while squirming in his chair.

Pope Francis stepped in as the Cardinal McCarrick story was unfolding and stripped the elderly former Cardinal-Archbishop of Washington, DC of his red hat, bouncing him from the College of Cardinals.

Now others are hoping that the Pope will repeat that same action with Cardinal Wuerl, by removing him from Washington and taking away his cardinalate. Cardinals do not have a mandatory retirement age. However, in three years when Cardinal Wuerl turns 80, he can no longer vote in a papal conclave nor can he be a candidate for pope.


Leading the charge to see Cardinal Wuerl stripped of his Archdiocese and red hat is Michael Voris at Church Militant. He and his Church Militant team are doing the heavy lifting on covering the ever-widening sex abuse scandal for the conservative Catholic press. The Internet news apostolate reports that in a private off-camera meeting with the abuse victims reportedly Shapiro said: "Wuerl was the dirtiest bishop as far as [the] sex abuse cover up."

As the Pennsylvania report came out, Spotlight reporter Michael Rezendes made the rounds of network morning shows explaining what he learned in covering the same story in 2002.

"The story is the same whether it's Boston or Pennsylvania, or Tucson or Los Angeles or globally in Ireland, or Australia or Chile," he said. "It's the same depravity, the same criminality, the same coverup. This is a systemic problem within the Catholic Church."

In a Church Militant special report Voris revealed that "analysists are speculating that a series of grand jury investigations across multiple states could be a trigger for the United States Department of Justice to begin exploring whether RICO statues have been violated."

RICO is the 1970 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act dealing with racketeering and organized crime syndicates.

Writing for NBC News, Dr. Anthea Butler, who is an associate professor in the University of Pennsylvania's Depart of Religious Studies said: "The grand jury report about Catholic priest abuse in Pennsylvania shows the church is like a criminal syndicate. It is time for the Church to be broken apart and cleaned out."

John Zmirak, a senior editor for The Stream, a conservative national Internet daily, would like to see some two or three Catholic bishops' heads roll

"We also need to put some of these bishops in prison. I would like to see federal RICO charges filed against the bishops who were involved in a criminal conspiracy to cover up the abuse of children [and] the distribution of child pornography," he wrote for Breitbart. "There were real crimes here, and I don't think a damn thing is going to change until at least one -- but preferably two or three -- bishops are rotting in federal [or] state prison."

Cardinal O'Malley has just been hit with the news of new sexual harassment allegations at St. John's Seminary in Boston and has been forced to cancel his plans to attend the World Meeting of Families slated to begin next week in Dublin, Ireland, so that he can deal with the new crisis developing at his own Archdiocesan seminary.

He realizes that bishops, including Franciscan cardinals, can no longer bury their heads in the sand and hope that sexual abuse allegations will go away or be otherwise solved.

"The clock is ticking for all of us in church leadership," he said late Thursday afternoon. "Catholics have lost patience with us and civil society has lost confidence in us."

Raymond Cardinal Burke, a stanch traditional conservative who is a canon lawyer and was at one time prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (chief justice of the Catholic Church Supreme Court), said that the American bishops can't investigate themselves. It is the job of the Vatican under the direction of the Pope. He said that canon law has outlined how the bishops are to deal with sexual abuse and those canons have been ignored.

"We are in the face of a very grave crisis touching at the very heart of the Church. We're dealing with the gravest of sins and ecclesiastical crimes," Cardinal Burke told EWTN. "There is a serious loss of confidence in our shepherds (bishops) and that has to be restored. The Catholic Church in the United States is undergoing possibly the worst crisis it has ever experienced. There has been a grievous failure on the part of the bishops."

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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