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DOJ investigates Pennsylvania clergy members

Photo Courtesy of Associated Press

Photo Courtesy of Associated Press

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Over 300 Catholic priests across Pennsylvania sexually molested children for more than 70 years, protected by Bishops and other top leaders in the church, persuading victims not to report the assault and law enforcement not to investigate it, according to a grand jury report released on Aug 14th.

The investigation, which is one of the broadest inquiries into church sex abuse in U.S. history, identified at least 1,000 children who were victims but reported that there probably are thousands more.

“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. For decades,” the grand jury wrote in its report.

The 18-month investigation covered the six state’s diocese including Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton. This investigation follows other state grand jury reports that revealed abuse and cover ups in two other dioceses. The grand jury reviewed more than t wo million documents, including some from what church leaders referred to as the “secret archives”– reports of abuse they hid from the public for decades, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference Tuesday.

On Thursday, Oct. 18, the diocese of seven out of the eight listed in the grand jury report are currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice.

DePaul University is a Catholic institution that has made efforts to assist people in dealing with sexual abuse, and James Halstead, a professor in DePaul’s religious department, said Catholic universities should continue helping people dealing with sexual abuse.

“Catholic universities like DePaul should be studying the phenomena of childhood sexual abuse in the church, in families, and in neighborhoods, there should be a thorough study of this curious phenomenon, childhood sexual abuse,” said Halstead. “Second thing we should be doing is teaching and publishing. Childhood sexual abuse is a worldwide human phenomenon which raises different questions. Universities should be studying and teaching and then if a student comes to the university who is dealing with childhood sexual abuse, (he or she) should be getting help from the university counseling services and the university ministry.”

The sexual abuse scandal has shaken the Catholic Church for more than 15 years, ever since explosive allegations emerged out of Boston in 2002. However, even after paying billions of dollars in settlements and adding new prevention programs, the church has been dogged by a scandal that is now reaching its highest ranks.

“It will continue to undermine the institution’s credibility,” said Halstead. “Secondly, because credibility is undermined, it will make people cautious or fearful of Catholic priests and brothers. Also, it will deplete the amount of money the Catholic Church can spend on other social services. If you are paying off lawyers and lawsuits, you do not have the money to pay for teachers, to repair your buildings, to run a homeless shelter and orphanage.” For college students, the worry is considerably more noteworthy. Students presently face an increased rate of rape and assault on campus, with sexual violence being the most well-known crime on campus across the U.S. However, DePaul University offers a variety of resources to students dealing with personal issues or concerns at the university’s c o u n s e l i n g services.

“The top three presenting problems at DePaul Counseling Services (as well as other university counseling centers) are anxiety, depression, and relationship issues and concerns,” said Jeffrey Lanfear, the director of DePaul University’s Counseling Services. Lanfear explained that it is not unusual for students to disclose some type of past history of sexual or interpersonal violence or a range of boundary violations.”

“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing.””

— Grand Jury Report

Likewise, Thomas O’Brien, a professor in the DePaul’s religious department, said it is difficult to determine if Catholic universities should be doing more to assist people in dealing with sexual abuse. But said DePaul offers to counsel to students dealing with sexual abuse.

“On one level it is difficult to answer a question like this because there are so many Catholic universities in the U.S. and each one acts independently of the church, and most don’t coordinate efforts like outreach with one another,” said O’Brien. “Some universities are reaching out to survivors of sexual abuse, but others don’t view this as essential to their missions. Students have many avenues at DePaul to address their need for support and counseling. However, I’m unaware of a coordinated approach focused specifically on survivors’ ecclesial sexual abuse. That doesn’t mean nothing is being done because I may not be appropriately connected to the offices that address these kinds of support issues with students.”

As college students face an increased risk of sexual violence, children are more at risk of sexual abuse, as seen in the case of the Pennsylvania abuse scandal. Today, survivors feel feeble and quiet, reluctant to share their story.

It is a process, however, and it takes time to implement strategies to stop sexual abuse. Believing survivors is the first step to solve this problem, and after listening to their complaints, actions should be taken to help these people.

“The Catholic Church in 2002 made all sorts of structural changes in the U.S. And if you notice since those structural changes have been made, the reported sexual abuse has gone down. It worked,” said Halstead. “The next step, Catholic families have to do a lot better job with sex education of their children, and that’s a parental responsibility.”

O’Brien said this problem has been going on for a long time and there is no sign of it ending.

“The Catholic Church and its other institutions seem to be mired in a crisis of confidence, even with its most ardent followers. Sexual abuse has happened before in church history, and there are many precedents from the Middle Ages that are instructive,” O’Brien said. “Obviously, in every case, the church eventually found a way through these crises, but in each instance, the institution underwent wrenching, fundamental change.”

“I’m convinced the current Vatican structures are a mismatch for the ethos of our times, and they’re also struggling with massive internal corruption, which explains, in part, its inability to properly respond to this crisis. We’re immersed in the midst of the turmoil at this juncture, so it’s almost impossible to foresee how this will all shake out, however, right now, the outlook isn’t promising for this ancient institution.”

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DOJ investigates Pennsylvania clergy members