Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the two-year probe found a systematic cover-up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican. Documents from the dioceses own secret archives formed the backbone of the investigation corroborating accounts of alleged sexual abuse and systemic church cover-up, mirroring a worldwide pattern where abusers are moved from parish to parish.
"The most important thing I want to do at this moment is to express my sorrow to the victims of sexual abuse that occurred within the Diocese of Erie", Bishop Lawrence Persico wrote.
Representatives of the six Pennsylvania dioceses included in the report could not be reached for comment.
Washington County District Attorney John Pettit, filed the sexual abuse charges against three Roman Catholic priests for allegedly molesting two brothers who were altar boys, and accused the church of foot -dragging during the investigation.
"There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church", the grand jury said.
More than 1,000 child victims were identifiable, but the "real number" was "in the thousands", the grand jury estimated, given those children whose records were lost or who were afraid to ever come forward.
Pennsylvania is believed to have conducted more investigations of institutional child sex abuse than any other state.
A 19th, the Diocese of St. Cloud in Minnesota, announced plans in February to file for bankruptcy protection.The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said in late May that it has agreed to pay a $210 million settlement to 450 victims of clergy sexual abuse, one of the largest payouts to date in the USA over the scandal.
In addition to allegations of abuse - many of which were already public - the report accuses high-ranking church officials of covering up the abuse. "Priests were raping little boys and girls and the men of God who were responsible not only did nothing: They hid it all".
"Above all else, (bishops) protected their institution, at all cost", Shapiro said.
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The report cited 301 priests, some of whom have died.
Only two of the priests named Tuesday can be prosecuted. Some current and former priests who deny the allegations fought to have their names redacted. The scandal in Pennsylvania is but one small facet of the crisis facing the Church around the world over clergy sexual abuse, abuse of power, an active homosexual culture in seminaries, predatory prelates and widespread homosexual activity among the US priesthood. The diocese settled with the family after requiring a confidentiality agreement, he said.
The worst periods of abuse stretched from the 1960s to the 1980s, and while some of the victims were girls, the vast majority of victims were males ranging from prepubescent to young seminarians. 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 priests marked their victims with gifts. The local district attorney halted his investigations into the alleged abuse in 1964 "in order to prevent unfavorable publicity", admitting he did so because "he was desirous of support from the Diocese for his political career".
It catalogs horrific instances of abuse: a priest who raped a young girl in the hospital after she had her tonsils out; a victim tied up and whipped with leather straps by a priest; and another priest who was allowed to stay in ministry after impregnating a young girl and arranging for her to have an abortion. Another child drank juice, only to wake up the next morning bleeding from his rectum and unable to remember what had happened.
Since the Boston abuse scandal first erupted in the 1990s, fresh accusations involving American clerics have sporadically surfaced, further tarnishing the church's public image.
Between 5,700 and 10,000 Catholic priests have been accused of sexual abuse in the United States, but only a few hundred have been tried, convicted, and sentenced for their crimes, according to the watchdog Bishop Accountability.
It is the largest examination of Catholic Church abuse in American History. That story was turned into Oscar-winning Hollywood movie, Spotlight, starring Michael Keaton.