Grand jury report: scandal covered up for 30 years

By Laura Van De Pette
September 30, 2005


The Philadelphia grand jury concluded its three-year-long investigation of sexual abuse of children by priests in Philadelphia, accusing two former archbishops of “a continuous, concerted campaign of cover-up.” The Philadelphia Roman Catholic Archdiocese quickly denounced the grand jury findings as “reckless rhetoric, dispensed from any burden of proof, and it is not responsible law enforcement… .”

No legal charges, however, will come from the grand jury because of the statute of limitations on the allegations, according the district attorney of Philadelphia.

This report contains the findings of the grand jury and how dozens of priests sexually abused hundreds of children; how Philadelphia Archdiocese officials, including Cardinal Bevilacqua and Cardinal Krol, excused and enabled the abuse, and how the law must be changed so that it doesn’t happen again.

Lynn Abraham, district attorney of Philadelphia, said, “Some may be tempted to describe these events as tragic. Tragedies such as tidal waves, however, are outside human control. What we found were not acts of God, but of men who acted in His name and defiled it.”

The Archdiocese, in a 73-page statement, said, “The Archdiocese of Philadelphia acknowledges the abhorrent behavior of certain priests who have committed unspeakable acts of sexual abuse against some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

According to the grand jury report, “the biggest crime of all is that it worked. The abuser priests, by choosing children as targets and trafficking on their trust, were able to prevent or delay reports of their sexual assaults, to the point where applicable statutes of limitations expired. And Archdiocese officials, by burying those reports they did receive and covering up the conduct, similarly managed to outlast any statutes of limitation. As a result, these priests and officials will necessarily escape criminal prosecution.”

Dr. Margaret McGuinness, professor of religious studies, said, “I think, like everybody, I’m angry about what they found, not surprised. I thought it was there. I think they were hoping it wouldn’t be, and it was. I’m angry that it was covered up, that it wasn’t reported. To use the excuse that priests didn’t have to report it, is just a cop out.”

The Archdiocese criticizes two aspects of the report in particular. “It focuses on long-ago episodes, and fails to recognize the limited scientific knowledge available in the past about preventing or healing childhood sexual abuse. It also fails to acknowledge any Archdiocesan effort to update its policies consistent with contemporary medical thought.”

Documents and testimony left the grand jury with no doubt that Cardinal Bevilacqua and Cardinal Krol were personally informed of almost all of the allegations of sexual abuse by priests and personally decided or approved of how to handle those allegations.

The Archdiocese reply strongly disagreed with the grand jury’s allegations of a cover-up, particularly by Cardinal Bevilacqua, who became archbishop in Philadelphia in 1988. The Archdiocese adopted strict new policies in 2002 to deal promptly and severely at the first sign of allegations. The Archdiocese says the report ignores the changes in effect.

Father Michael Bielecki said, “I

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Laura Van De Pette

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