A far-reaching investigation of a the Pennsylvania Archdiocese is gaining momentum in Pennsylvania. The state attorney general’s office is reviewing nearly 70 years of records concerning sexually-abusive priests affiliated with Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses. The attorney general, collaborating with a Pittsburgh-based grand jury, has issued subpoenas to obtain documents dating to 1947. Under scrutiny are the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton.
Past probes (Altoona-Johnstown) and current predictions
Two other dioceses have already been investigated. The Diocese of Philadelphia came under the microscope in 2005 and 2011. What began as an investigation of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, which had its records seized in 2015, has expanded to the current statewide review.
According to the Altoona-Johnstown report released on March 1, more than 50 priests and others connected with the church were implicated in sexual molestation cases involving hundreds of minors, mostly between the 1940s and 1980s. No one was charged, but the report substantiated the victims’ accounts. A related investigation led to charges against three Hollidaysburg priests accused of endangering the welfare of children by assigning an abusive priest to work in public settings.
Upon the release of the Altoona-Johnstown report, the attorney general’s office has received numerous new reports of abuse statewide and over 100 names of alleged abusers in all eight of Pennsylvania’s dioceses.
Based on the outcome of the Altoona-Johnstown case, legal analysts have made some predictions regarding the current inquiry.
Because several of the alleged abuse cases are decades old, many of the defendants are deceased, or the statute of limitations on filing charges against them has expired. A number of the perpetrators’ names have already been publicized because of civil and criminal trials, although a few new names are likely to emerge. However, few criminal prosecutions are expected.
Church documents will probably reveal shocking details about how church authorities dealt with these cases and how they justified their decisions. While some documents remain on file, others may have been destroyed. Church policies allow documentation of scandals to be removed from the records after a certain time period. Remaining evidence should reveal a pattern of how bishops have handled such cases, which often occur in isolation.
While it is tragic that these cases have come to light so long after the fact, we applaud the AG’s efforts to bring justice on behalf of the victims.