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.


Indonesian fishermen return home after release from Philippines militants

Updated 20 September 2018
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Indonesian fishermen return home after release from Philippines militants

  • With the release of the trio, all Indonesians abducted by Filipino militants before 2018 have been released
  • Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines wil boost security cooperation in the Sulu Sea, which is a busy maritime area for fishing boats and cargo vessels transporting coal from Indonesia to the Philippines

JAKARTA: After 20 months being held hostage by militants in the southern Philippines, three Indonesian fishermen were finally reunited on Wednesday with their respective families at the Foreign Ministry.

Vice Foreign Minister A.M. Fachir handed them over from the government to their respective family representatives in a ceremony which was held without media presence.
 
"The condition on the field was getting more difficult. But we made the most of our contacts and assets on the field, and with the Philippines government support we were able to get them released,” Fachir said in a statement from the ministry. .
 
Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, the Foreign Ministry’s director for protection of Indonesians abroad, said the handover was held in private because “it was not a cause for celebration.”
 
“We are grateful for their release, but we still have two Indonesians who were abducted on Sept. 11 and we don’t want to hurt their families’ feeling,” Iqbal said.
 
The three fishermen are Hamdan bin Saleng, Sudarling bin Samansunga, and Subandi bin Sattu, who hail from Selayar and Bulukumba in South Sulawesi province. They were freed from their captors on Friday in Sulu province on the southern Philippines.
 
Rudi Wahyudin, a representative of Sattu’s family, said the family members were devastated during the 20 months Sattu was held hostage but they tried to keep their hopes up by keeping in touch with the foreign ministry to get updates of efforts to release him and his fellow fishermen.
 
“It’s normal for people in our village in Bulukumba to migrate and work abroad. Now his wife has asked Sattu to quit working overseas and find another job close to home instead,” Wahyudin said.
 
Indonesian ambassador to the Philippines, Sinyo Harry Sarundajang said the military attache and he flew to Zamboanga City to pick up the three men, after the embassy received information of their release from the West Mindanao Command.
 
“We thank President Duterte and the Philippines government for their attention and cooperation on this matter. It was a long and delicate process to release them and we had to be very careful because we didn’t want anyone to become victim in the process,” Sarundajang said at the press conference.    
 
According to the ambassador, the three men were moved and had to island-hopped to various small islands on the Sulu archipelago as their captors were avoiding the Philippine military operation.
 
The three men were working as crew members in a Malaysian fishing boat when they were abducted in the waters of Sabah in Malaysia on Jan 2017.
 
Iqbal said there are about 6,000 Indonesians working in fishing vessels in Sabah. Since 2016, there has been 34 Indonesian citizens who were kidnapped by armed militants in the southern Philippines and 13 of them were fishermen who were abducted from their vessels in the waters of Sabah.
 
With the release of the trio, all Indonesians abducted by Filipino militants before 2018 have been released.
 
“We are now working to release the two fishermen who were abducted on Sep 11. We have expressed our concerns to the Malaysian authority on the lack of security on their waters,” Iqbal said.
 
He added that Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines would boost security cooperation in the Sulu Sea between the three countries, which is a busy maritime area for fishing boats and cargo vessels transporting coal from Indonesia to the Philippines.
 
The three neighboring countries agreed in May 2016 to launch joint patrols in the area following a series of hijacking and kidnapping of Indonesian vessels and crew members. The initial maritime patrol was launched in June 2017 and was beefed up with air patrols in Oct 2017.