Pennsylvania priests molested over 1,000 children: Report

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The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, discusses the release of the 40th statewide investigating grand jury clergy sex abuse report that identifies 59 religious leaders in his diocese, during a press conference in Scranton, Pa., on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. (AP)
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Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. (AP)
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Victims of clergy sexual abuse, or their family members react as Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. (AP)
Updated 15 August 2018
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Pennsylvania priests molested over 1,000 children: Report

  • US bishops have acknowledged that more than 17,000 people nationwide have reported being molested by priests and others in the church
  • The investigation confirmed a “systematic cover-up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania: Hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania molested more than 1,000 children — and possibly many more — since the 1940s, and senior church officials, including a man who is now the archbishop of Washington, D.C., systematically covered up the abuse, according to a grand jury report released Tuesday.
The “real number” of abused children might be in the thousands since some secret church records were lost, and victims were afraid to come forward, the grand jury said.
“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,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference in Harrisburg.
The report put the number of abusive clergy at more than 300. In nearly all of the cases, the statute of limitations has run out, meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed. More than 100 of the priests are dead, and many others are retired or have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave.
“We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated,” the grand jury said.
Authorities evaluated each suspect and were able to charge just two, including a priest who has since pleaded guilty. Shapiro said the investigation is ongoing.
Church officials “routinely and purposefully described the abuse as horseplay and wrestling” and simply “inappropriate conduct,” Shapiro said.
“It was none of those things. It was child sexual abuse, including rape,” he said.
The grand jury accused Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who leads the Washington archdiocese, of helping to protect abusive priests when he was Pittsburgh’s bishop. Wuerl, who led the Pittsburgh diocese from 1988 to 2006, disputed the allegations.
“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,” he said in a statement. “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 probe was the most extensive investigation of Catholic clergy abuse by any state. Its findings echoed many earlier church investigations around the country, describing widespread sexual abuse and church officials’ concealment of it. US bishops have acknowledged that more than 17,000 people nationwide have reported being molested by priests and others in the church.
Most of the Pennsylvania victims were boys, but girls were abused, too, the report said.
The abuse ranged from groping and masturbation to anal, oral and vaginal rape. One boy was forced to say confession to the priest who sexually abused him. A 9-year-old boy was forced to perform oral sex and then had his mouth washed out with holy water. Another boy was made to pose naked as if being crucified and then was photographed by a group of priests who Shapiro said produced and shared child pornography on church grounds.
The grand jury concluded that a succession of Catholic bishops and other diocesan leaders tried to shield the church from bad publicity and financial liability. They failed to report accused clergy to police and sent abusive priests to so-called “treatment facilities,” which “laundered” the priests and “permitted hundreds of known offenders to return to ministry,” the report said.
Shapiro said the investigation confirmed a “systematic cover-up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.” The report itself provided scant detail about the Vatican’s role, beyond describing a series of confidential reports that bishops made to the Vatican about abusive priests.
The conspiracy of silence extended beyond church grounds. The grand jury said it found cases in which police or prosecutors learned of clergy sex abuse allegations but did not investigate out of deference to church officials.
The grand jury’s report comes at a time of renewed scrutiny and fresh scandal at the highest levels of the US Catholic Church. Pope Francis stripped 88-year-old Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of his title and ordered him to a lifetime of prayer and penance amid allegations that McCarrick had for years sexually abused boys and had sexual misconduct with adult seminarians.
Wuerl has come under harsh criticism over his response to the McCarrick scandal, with some commentators questioning his claims of surprise and ignorance over allegations that McCarrick molested and harassed young seminarians.
Wuerl replaced McCarrick as Washington’s archbishop after McCarrick retired in 2006.
The Pennsylvania grand jury, convened by the state attorney general’s office in 2016, heard from dozens of witnesses and reviewed more than a half-million pages of internal documents from the Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses.
The Pittsburgh diocese said a few priests are still in ministry because the diocese determined allegations against them were unsubstantiated.
Tim Lennon, the president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, urged Pennsylvania lawmakers to lift civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sex crimes, and to provide victims who no longer meet the age requirements in state law with a new window to file civil lawsuits.
Some current and former clergy named in the report went to court to prevent its release, arguing it violated their constitutional rights. The state Supreme Court said the public had a right to see it, but ruled the names of priests and others who objected to the findings would be blacked out pending a September hearing on their claims.
Twenty of the grand jurors said Tuesday they objected to “any attempts to censor, alter, redact or amend” the report.
Several dioceses decided to strip the accused of their anonymity and released the names of clergy members who were accused of sexual misconduct.


Major powers set to clash as chemical arms watchdog meets

Updated 14 min 37 sec ago
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Major powers set to clash as chemical arms watchdog meets

  • The organization faces difficult talks over a new investigative team that will start work next year to apportion blame for attacks in Syria
  • It is due soon to release a full report on a chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma in April

THE HAGUE: Global powers are set to clash next week as the world’s chemical arms watchdog meets for the first time since it was rocked by allegations of Russian spying.
The Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons in The Hague faces difficult talks over a new investigative team that will start work next year to apportion blame for attacks in Syria.
Moscow has warned the OPCW risks becoming a “sinking Titanic” over new powers which would also allow it to probe incidents like the Salisbury nerve agent attack on a Russian double agent.
But the darkest shadow over the meeting will be the expulsion of four Russians accused by Dutch authorities in October of trying to hack into the watchdog’s computer system.
New OPCW director-general Fernando Arias admitted in an interview with AFP on Monday that the watchdog was “going through a difficult moment” given recent events.
Key member states including Russia, the United States, Britain and France will all be able to have their say during the meeting, as will all 193 countries involved in the body.
Former Spanish diplomat Arias, who took over as chief earlier this year and will give the opening address at the meeting on Monday, insisted however that the toxic arms body was “more needed than ever.”
Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013, the OPCW is responsible for upholding the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention to end the use of all toxic arms.
So far it says it has overseen the destruction of 96.5 percent of the world’s chemical arms stocks.
“The main goal is to consolidate the organization and think that more than 21 years of success has to be preserved,” Arias said.
But in recent years it has seen its role expand to cover the investigation of a wave of chemicals attacks in the Syrian civil war, as well as the March 2018 Salisbury attack and the 2017 killing in Malaysia of a half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Top of the agenda this week will be discussions on how to implement the new powers that member states agreed on at a special meeting in June to let the OPCW attribute blame for attacks.
Arias said the that the OPCW was setting up a “very small but very strong team that will be in charge of identifying the perpetrators in Syria,” involving around nine or ten members.
The head of the team had already been picked and it would start work early next year, with a mandate to go back and try to point the finger for all chemical attacks in Syria since 2013.
The OPCW is due soon to release a full report on a chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma in April. An interim report said chlorine was detected but not nerve agents.
But the watchdog will also be able to attribute blame for future attacks anywhere in the world, so long as it is asked to by the country on whose territory where the incident happened.
The Salisbury attack that sickened double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter — while left-over nerve agent left a British woman dead — has added to the pressure for such powers.
“Salisbury means for us we have to adapt to the new risks and challenges,” Arias said.
Russia and Iran, which are closely allied to Syria, have strongly opposed the new powers, saying they risk making the OPCW too political.