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Pa. Report Reveals Widespread Sexual Abuse By Over 300 Priests

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Pennsylvania, a grand jury has released the results of an investigation of what it says were decades of sexual abuse involving hundreds of Roman Catholic priests and more than a thousand child victims. The grand jury also concluded that there were many more victims across six Pennsylvania dioceses it probed. Now, these details are horrific and really so were the allegations of an extensive cover-up. Virginia Alvino Young of member station WESA in Pittsburgh has been covering this and joins us. Hi, Virginia.

VIRGINIA ALVINO YOUNG, BYLINE: Hi there.

GREENE: How did we arrive here? What sparked this investigation and is bringing all of this to light now?

ALVINO YOUNG: Yeah, so a couple of years ago, two of the other dioceses in Pennsylvania had uncovered really similar cases of abuse. And when that report came out, hundreds of people across the state were inspired to come forward with their own stories of abuse. So the investigation was prompted by the state attorney general's office to look into the six other dioceses in Pennsylvania.

GREENE: And I suppose that some of the most horrific details are things we wouldn't even want to talk about on the radio, but I wonder, I mean, can you give us an idea of what stood out as you read through all of these pages of this report?

ALVINO YOUNG: Absolutely. A lot of the accounts that do come explicitly from not just witness testimony but the secret archives of the church that have explicit confessions of priests and accounts of what was happening on church grounds, really, it's graphic in nature, sure, but it goes so far beyond rape in that not just the scope of the abuse but the extent of the abuse. So there were predator priests who had many, many victims. And even within the Pittsburgh dioceses, there was collaboration among some of the priests to share intelligence about the victims to assist one another in grooming young boys for abuse and marking them, using something like a gold cross necklace to indicate to other priests which boys had been groomed. And those boys went on to be victims in a child pornography ring, which was created then led by these priests and distributed on church grounds.

GREENE: So this was, like, a network with different priests, I mean, collaborating with knowledge of victims. I mean, that goes beyond what's even imaginable to me.

ALVINO YOUNG: It really is. Anything you can think of can really be found in the type of allegations that are in this report.

GREENE: So you say that there were confessions in these secret archives. I mean, does that mean or does that speak to the extent of the cover-up here that we're now learning about?

ALVINO YOUNG: Yes. I mean, the report calls it a playbook for covering up the truth. When, you know, church leadership would hear about something like this, they had a system that they would follow. It was very intentional in the euphemisms that they would use. They would not use the words rape or assault. It was more like horseplay or inappropriate contact. They had methods for conducting internal investigations that were priest-led and for not telling, you know, parishioners why a priest would be relocated over and over to avoid, you know, abuse allegations getting out and to explicitly not inform law enforcement of what was happening, even with their knowledge.

GREENE: OK. So this report comes from a grand jury, which is brought together to, you know, to, in theory, bring charges. What - so what happens now?

ALVINO YOUNG: Not a lot of charges. Two - two out of the thousands of cases have been subject to charges because many of them are past the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania, which it really expires once these child victims become adults. So that's something that the grand jury, the attorney general's office and survivors are really calling for is a lift on that statute of limitations so that many of these priests can, you know, face justice in their eyes.

GREENE: Virginia Alvino Young of member station WESA in Pittsburgh, thanks a lot.

ALVINO YOUNG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.