In August 2018, six of the eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania were included in a grand jury report detailing the sexual abuse of over 1,000 children over the course of 70 years by more than 300 predator priests. Also outlined in this report is the Catholic Church’s “playbook for concealing the truth.” The seven-point playbook details how top Church officials in the dioceses across Pennsylvania covered up the sexual abuse of children by clergy.
The 2018 grand jury report also called for legal reform in the state of Pennsylvania by changing and extending the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse and to allow sexual abuse survivors who were previously time-barred from bringing legal claims, an opportunity to come forward for a certain period of time. To-date, the Pennsylvania legislature has not implemented any statute of limitations reform to help the thousands of survivors discussed in the grand jury report, and other survivors in Pennsylvania who remain suffering in secrecy and silence throughout the state.
In March 2016, a grand jury report investigating sexual abuse in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown was publicly released. The grand jury determined that hundreds of children were sexually abused over a period of at least 40 years by at least 50 priests or religious leaders in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. The grand jury also concluded that Bishops Hogan and Adamec were at the forefront of the cover-up of child sexual abuse in the Diocese. The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office executed a search warrant uncovering materials and over 100,000 documents that included the Diocese’s secret archive, a portion of which the grand jury reviewed and used as part of its investigation.
In 2002, Archbishop of Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua issued a statement that in the prior 52 years the Archdiocese had received credible allegations of child sexual abuse against a total of 35 priests. A grand jury report that was unsealed and publicly released in 2005, concluded that over the past 35 years, more than 120 priests working in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia were accused of sexually abusing hundreds of children.
The evidence gathered in the grand jury investigation also showed that Cardinal Bevilacqua, his predecessors, and other top officials in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, including Msgr. William Lynn, had knowingly transferred priests who had been credibly accused of sexually abusing children to new assignments and were aware that a significant number of priests presented a danger to children. At the time the report was released, Pennsylvania law did not provide for criminal charges. The report also provided detailed information on over 60 predator priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who had credible allegations of child sexual abuse against them.
In 2011, another grand jury report report was released in Philadelphia concluding that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had failed to stop the abuse of kids more than five years after the 2005 grand jury report was released. As a result of the grand jury investigation, Msgr. William Lynn, former Secretary for Clergy in the Archdiocese, was criminally charged with child endangerment. Msgr. Lynn was the first high-ranking Catholic official to be criminally charged in the United States for charges related to covering up clergy sexual abuse.
Additionally, after the 2011 grand jury report was released, former priest Edward V. Avery, Fr. Charles Engelhardt, Fr. James J. Brennan, and former lay teacher Bernard Shero were arrested and charged with rape, assault, and other felonies related to the sexual abuse of children. In June 2012, Msgr. Lynn was convicted of child endangerment, but his conviction was later overturned by the Pennsylvania Court of Appeals.
Currently, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has posted on its website, various lists of priests with credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. Some of these priests have been removed from the priesthood and others have simply had their ministerial duties restricted. The Philadelphia grand jury reports helped create these lists and shed light on an otherwise dark history of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.