If you or a loved one were sexually abused by a Pennsylvania Catholic priest, our experienced personal injury attorneys are here to help. Hundreds of survivors could be eligible to file suit.
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The Catholic Church has once again been rocked by claims of widespread sexual abuse. In a new landmark report, breathtaking in its scope and troubling in its allegations, a grand jury convened in Pennsylvania documents the systemic sexual exploitation of young boys and girls at the hands of priests and lay members of the Church.
Were you or a loved one sexually abused by a priest in Pennsylvania? You are not alone. There is substantial evidence to suggest that high-level leaders in the Church have concealed numerous cases of sexual abuse from the police and lawmakers. The cover-up goes back over 7 decades.
In light of these damning revelations, our compassionate team of sexual abuse attorneys are standing up for survivors. We believe that hundreds of sexual abuse survivors in Pennsylvania may be eligible to file their own Pennsylvania sexual abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church.
Related Reading: Indiana Catholic Church Sex Abuse Lawyers
If you or a loved one have information relevant to our investigation, we urge you to reach out to our dedicated legal team to learn more. You did nothing wrong. We believe you.
The grand jury's report, announced by Attorney General Josh Shapiro on August 14, 2018, is the culmination of an 18-month investigation. It represents the largest investigation into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church ever conducted in American history.
In line with previous reports, the grand jury's findings point a damning spotlight on the manner in which leaders of the Catholic Church handle sexual abuse complaints and allegations. Through 1,400 pages, the grand jury describes numerous horrific allegations of sexual abuse.
The report is difficult to read, not only because it explains in painstaking detail the perverse lengths to which Catholic priests can go in victimizing their parishioners.
Even more troubling is the way in which prominent Church leaders appear to have covered up this widespread sexual abuse, protecting pedophile priests, silencing victims through coercion and secret settlements and misleading secular authorities.
"They hid it all," the report reads, describing the conduct of Pennsylvania's Catholic dioceses. Not only were priests raping and molesting little boys and girls, but the Church actively hid the situation from the police and lawmakers.
"We heard the testimony of dozens of witnesses concerning clergy sex abuse. We subpoenaed, and reviewed, half a million pages of internal diocesan documents. They contained credible allegations against over three hundreds predator priests. Over one thousand child victims were identifiable, from the church's own records. We believe that the real number -- of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid to come forward -- is in the thousands."
It is not too much to say that the grand jurors found evidence of a massive sexual abuse cover-up within Pennsylvania's Catholic Church. About the pedophile priests, much has been written, but nothing more can be said. The grand jury report lists 301 named priests who became the subject of credible sexual abuse complaints, alongside over 1,000 identifiable victims.
Concerns about these priests were raised early and often with Church leaders. Survivors stepped forward; many were bullied into silence, others were paid hush money.
Despite the allegations against them, many of the priests were promoted to higher positions of authority. Some went on to lead the Church on influential matters of canon law. Their crimes were hidden. The shame and fear and rage they caused were swept under the rug.
"Another priest confessed to anal and oral rape of at least 15 boys, as young as seven years old. The bishop later met with the abuser to commend him as 'a person of candor and sincerity,' and to compliment him 'for the progress he has made' in controlling his 'addiction.' When the abuser was finally removed from the priesthood years later, the bishop ordered the parish not to say why; 'nothing else need be noted.' "
The report pertains to six of Pennsylvania's eight Catholic dioceses, including the dioceses of:
The sexual abuse scandal is not limited to any one of these dioceses. The grand jury report found evidence of systemic sexual abuse and concealment throughout every diocese that was investigated, from Allentown to Scranton.
Pennsylvania is actually home to eight Catholic dioceses. The dioceses of Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown were the subject of two previous grand jury investigations. Both investigations came to a similar, horrific conclusion, finding that sexual abuse was rampant throughout the dioceses of Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown.
As in the new grand jury report, these two prior reports found substantial evidence that Church leaders for the Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown dioceses took extensive steps to conceal sexual abuse reports, silence abuse survivors and evade the scrutiny of secular authorities.
"Priests were raping little boys and girls," the grand jury report concludes, "and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades." Few punches are pulled in the report.
Two previous grand jury reports, focused on the dioceses of Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown, came to similar conclusions, finding numerous cases of sexual abuse and a Church that used a "playbook for concealing the truth" to hide complaints, even promoting abusive predators to higher positions of authority.
"While each church district had its idiosyncrasies, the pattern was pretty much the same. The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid 'scandal.' That is not our word, but theirs; it appears over and over again in the documents we recovered. Abuse complaints were kept locked up in a 'secret archive.' That is not our word, but theirs; the church's Code of Canon Law specifically requires the diocese to maintain such an archive. Only the bishop can have the key."
1,400 pages long, the report stands as a damning critique of the extraordinary lengths Church leaders went to conceal evidence of widespread sexual abuse for years. It names over 300 Catholic priests who abused their positions of trust and power to molest and rape young boys and girls.
To jump straight to the list of named priests accused of sexual abuse, click here.
Culled from a review of more than 2 million documents, including those held in the Catholic Church's "secret archives," the sexual abuse complaints involve around 1,000 children who were victimized by priests. The grand jury interviewed numerous sexual abuse survivors - the oldest being 83.
The report is filled with graphic descriptions of horrific abuse.
"Most of the victims were boys; but there were girls too. Some were teens; many were pre-pubescent. Some were manipulated with alcohol or pornography. Some were made to masturbate their assailants, or were groped by them. Some were raped orally, some vaginally, some anally. But all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all."
There are stories of victims who were forced to confess their "sins" to the very same priests who were abusing them. Children were "marked" by special gold cross necklaces as having been "groomed" for sexual abuse. Young boys were drugged with alcohol to make them compliant.
Several deaths have even been linked to the abuse. One man, raped by a priest in Pittsburgh, was violated in such traumatic circumstances that he suffered irreparable spinal damage. Addicted to prescription painkillers, he eventually died of an overdose. Another man died by suicide after being raped by a priest in Berks County.
Needless to say, thousands of other unreported cases could hold similarly-distressing details. And towering over these individual stories are the policies and actions of the Church itself.
The grand jury report paints a portrait of a powerful organization more interested in protecting its own reputation, along with the reputations of abusive predators, than protecting children. A priest who impregnated a 17-year-old girl and forced her to marry him was allowed to remain in the ministry. Priests who openly admitted to having sexually abused children were promoted. In the Allentown diocese, a priest who abused multiple children was given a work recommendation for Disney World.
Over the years, numerous victims were persuaded to remain silent about abuse. And the Church exerted pressure on local law enforcement officials to stop investigations in their tracks.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who served as bishop of the Pittsburgh diocese from 1988 to 2006, features heavily in the report. At times, Wuerl can be seen preventing abusive priests from re-entering the ministry. At others, he appears to guide them back into new parishes, leaving additional potential victims in harm's way.
In a statement, he said the report "will be a reminder of the grave failings that the church must acknowledge and for which it must seek forgiveness." Wuerl, serving as the archbishop of Washington, D.C, stepped down from his position in October 2018. He replaced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who stepped down last month after being accused of sexually abusing a string of children and adults.
Below is a list by Diocese of all the priests named in the report. Some names have been redacted because they are the subject of active litigation. Around 24 priests petitioned the grand jury to have their names held from publication. Attorney General James Shapiro is now fighting to have a full version of the report released, without redactions.
To jump straight to your diocese, click on one of the links below:
"Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability," the grand jury writes.
Tragically, while many of the priests implicated in the report are still alive, the grand jury report is unlikely to lead to many criminal prosecutions. "We all wish more charges could be filed," says Josh Shapiro, Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, "but due to the church's manipulation of our weak laws in Pennsylvania, too many predators were out of reach."
At this point, only two priests have been formally charged based on the grand jury's findings. That's a tragedy, but it's also proof that sexual abuse is still occurring within the Church. The problem lies in the statute of limitations, a state law that limits the number of times victims have to press criminal charges or file a civil lawsuit for compensation.
In Pennsylvania, the criminal statute of limitations to prosecute a predator for child sexual abuse ends when the victim turns 50. The civil statute of limitations for bringing a child sex abuse lawsuit against the predator, the Catholic Church, and all those who enabled this to happen expires when the victim turns 30 years old.
Those time limits are far too short, advocates say, to prosecute many of the priests named in the report. Due to an extremely unfortunate twist of state law, many abusive priests may be able to evade justice, even though their names have now been released to the public.
"This is the murder of a soul," said James VanSickle, now 55-years-old, who was sexually abused by a priest in Erie during the 80s. VanSickle stood beside Attorney General Josh Shapiro at the press conference announcing the grand jury report's completion. Despite his having come forward, the priest who abused VanSickle cannot be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations.
The grand jury report calls on lawmakers to eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for child victims of sexual abuse. It also calls for an extension in the civil statute of limitations, which would allow survivors more time to file private lawsuits against their abusers and the Church.
Attorney General Shapiro has even spoken about opening a temporary "window" in the statute, which would allow older victims whose cases are now barred by the statute of limitations to press their claims in court for a pre-defined period of time.
Among its other recommendations, the grand jury report demands an end to the use of nondisclosure agreements, which hold victims to silence after they settle their cases.
It is uncertain whether or not these priests will see justice. Many of the allegations documented in the report go back decades; some are over 70 years old. As a result, many of the claims are outside of the statute of limitations, a state-level law that limits the amount of time sexual abuse survivors have to press charges or file a private lawsuit.
There are two statutes of limitations at issue in Pennsylvania, a criminal law and a civil law. The criminal law, which restricts the amount of time in which survivors can press criminal charges, currently allows survivors to come forward until the age of 50. Civil lawsuits, which would seek to hold individual priests, Church leaders and the Church itself accountable for financial damages, are bound by a far-stricter statute of limitations. As currently written, Pennsylvania's civil statute of limitations provides survivors until their 30th birthday to file suit.
Change may be on the way, however. Inspired directly by the grand jury report, a bill currently under consideration in Pennsylvania's House of Representatives would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations and extend the civil statute of limitations to a survivor's 50th birthday.
An additional measure would open a temporary "window of justice," in which survivors with historical complaints from the past would again be allowed to step forward and press their claims in court. This would present a major opportunity for sexual abuse survivors.
In the coming months, it may be possible for sexual abuse survivors who were abused decades ago to come forward and file their own private lawsuits for compensation.
In light of these major developments, our experienced personal injury attorneys have opened a full investigation into sexual assault complaints against Catholic priests in Pennsylvania. Our attorneys are currently investigating multiple claims of sexual abuse against priests, both those still living and those who have passed away. Your eligibility to file a claim against the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania is not limited by the death of a pedophile priest.
We believe that, through our lawsuits, the Catholic Church should be made to compensate sexual abuse survivors. The time for silence has come and gone. The Pennsylvania grand jury report has given new voice to survivors, most of whom have languished in the shadows for years. Now, a new opportunity may be on the horizon.
We believe you, and we believe your story deserves to be told. Learn more about your legal options in a free, confidential consultation. You can find more information about your rights at no charge and no obligation. We are here to help.