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United States grand jury: Predator priests in Pennsylvania had church protection

United States grand jury: Predator priests in Pennsylvania had church protection

More than 300 "predator" priests in Pennsylvania are accused of abusing over 1,000 children across seven decades, a grand jury said Tuesday in a devastating report that decried a systematic cover-up by the Catholic Church.

At a news conference Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said church officials often dismissed or ignored allegations of abuse.

The grand jury scrutinised abuse allegations in dioceses that minister to more than half the state's 3.2 million Catholics.

More than 300 clergy have been implicated in committing abuse over several decades, beginning in the mid-1950s, the report said.

"The cover-up was sophisticated".

Shapiro said at a news conference that he was bound by the state's statutes of limitation.

About 1,000 child victims were identifiable from the church's records, but investigators believe the real number is much greater.

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. Wuerl released a statement denying being involved in any cover-up and insisting he "acted with diligence.to prevent future acts of abuse". The Archdiocese of Boston in 2002 paid $10 million to victims of a priest who had abused more than 130 children during his tenure and in 2003 paid $85 million to victims and their parents who had filed lawsuits over the abuse.

According to the grand jury report, diocese records state that the church negotiated with law enforcement to avoid prosecution.

Pennsylvania's grand jury report echoes the findings of other investigations around the USA that have detailed widespread sexual abuse by clergy and church officials' efforts to cover it up.

"There have been other reports on child sex abuse in the Catholic Church, but never on this scale", Shapiro said. He went on to say that he will fight to reveal the names now redacted in the report.

With one priest, George Zirwas, the grand jury says his diocese knew of complaints starting in 1987 that he purportedly sexually abused children.

The bishops say they are "profoundly saddened each time we hear about the harm caused as a result of abuse, at the hands of a clergyman of any rank", while also promising "to offer avenues to healing for those who have been abused" as well as working resolutely "so that such abuse can not happen".

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When the youngest victim of the family told her parents in 1992, a police search of the priest's home found panties, plastic containers of pubic hairs, vials of urine and sexually suggestive photographs of young girls.

Shapiro said he wants an unredacted report to be issued.

"I will continue to fight to ensure every single victim is heard and every priest, bishop and church official is held accountable for their abhorrent conduct".

"The issue here is that many of these cases occurred so long ago that they can not be charge criminally here in the state", Saloomey said.

The report released Tuesday comes on the heels of Pope Francis accepting the resignation of the former archbishop of Washington D.C., Theodore McCarrick, following his own accusations of sexual abuse.

Wuerl replaced McCarrick as Washington's archbishop after McCarrick retired in 2006.

The near-900-page report is the result of one of the largest U.S. investigations into sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

Some current and former clergy named in the report went to court to prevent its release, arguing it violated their constitutional rights to reputation and due process of law. Some, such as the Diocese of Harrisburg, made its list public August 1, updating it August 6, adding the name of an accused priest to it after receiving "additional information".

Little is known about the petitioning clergy members, despite hundreds of pages of related court documents that have since been made public. "For decades", the 900-page report said.

Until now, there have been just nine investigations by a prosecutor or grand jury of a Catholic diocese or archdiocese in the United States, according to the Massachusetts-based research and advocacy organization, BishopAccountability.org.

Diocese leaders responded Tuesday by expressing sorrow for the victims, stressing how they've changed and unveiling, for the first time, a list of priests accused of some sort of sexual misconduct.

Several of these cases inherited from Cardinal Bevilacqua's time were subject to the report's most stringent criticisms.