Weak laws, statute of limitations continue to prevent charges against “predator priests,” says AG Shapiro
Despite the latest grand jury report’s findings, Shapiro’s office has only been able to bring charges against two of the 301 “predator priests,” because of …
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Were it not for the groundwork laid more than a decade earlier in Philadelphia, the landmark grand jury report released by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office last August, implicating more than 300 “predator priests” in the Catholic Church alleged to have abused more than 1,000 children, might not have been possible.
In 2005, then-Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham made public the findings of a grand jury investigation that alleged the sexual abuse of hundreds of children by more than 60 priests in the city, and the Catholic Church’s efforts to cover up the incidents.
Just three years earlier, too, the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team of investigative reporters exposed the widespread sexual abuse of children by Catholic Church priests in Boston - another groundbreaking investigation the Attorney General pointed to as an important predecessor to the investigation - he was able to take over and see to its conclusion in Pennsylvania.
“I think that the work that Lynne [Abraham] did in Philadelphia was very, very important, and it was groundbreaking. Our work built on that, and we identified more than 300 ‘predator priests,’ so just the numbers alone are significantly larger, though we investigated dioceses across the state,” Shapiro told AL DÍA during an interview.
“What we did is we built on the good work that was done in Philadelphia, we built on the good work that was done by the Boston Globe in the Spotlight series, and we expanded on it, and released what I think is still the largest, most comprehensive report of its kind in the history of the United States,” he continued.
Despite the findings of Abraham’s investigation, due to statutes of limitations on the allegations, the grand jury was unable to prosecute any of the identified perpetrators of the abuse, nor any Church official involved in the cover-up.
Only in 2011, following another grand jury report into the issue, was the District Attorney’s Office, now under the direction of Seth Williams, able to charge Monsignor William Lynn, the pastor of St. Joseph Church in Downingtown, with conspiracy and child endangerment. He became “the most senior official of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States to be tried on charges relating to the child sexual abuse,” the New York Times reported at the time.
Now, nearly 15 years after the troubling findings of her investigation were released, a statewide investigation found similar practices covering up large-scale abuse within the church across the entire state.
“The fact that the same things persist necessitating another investigation, this time across Pennsylvania, should come as no surprise to anyone attuned to the corruption of the church," Abraham told PennLive during an interview last summer.
"The popes have known about sexual predators in the church for generations but thought the church was more important to protect than the children in their care and control. Nothing much has changed over these years. Their response consistently has been 'lie, deny and cover-up,'" she added.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia - which wasn’t included in the Pennsylvania grand jury report because of the previous 2005 investigation - told AL DÍA that they have undertaken measures to address the issue.
“Sexual abuse of minors is a societal evil that can rear its head anywhere. It’s an issue in nearly every profession, in millions of private homes, and in public institutions. It is not solely a Catholic issue, but the Catholic Church has done more than any other institution in recent years to combat the problem,” Chief Communications Officer Kenneth Gavin wrote in an email.
“It should be noted that the Archdiocese has worked continuously and vigorously over the past several years to reform the way it protects the children and families it serves including: new policies and procedures, new standards of ministerial behavior, new Archdiocesan review board members who represent a broad cross section of expertise in the investigation, and prosecution of sexual abuse,” he added.
Despite the latest grand jury report’s findings, Shapiro’s office has only been able to bring charges against two of the 301 “predator priests,” because of “weak laws and the statute of limitations.”
“What we have called for, and the grand jurors have called for, and I’ve advocated for, [are] reforms to our state laws to ensure that something like this can never happen again,” Shapiro said.
“The first thing I’ll be doing is fighting to get those reforms passed.”