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2 Mar, 2016 03:20

Hundreds of Penn. children sexually abused by ‘predator priests’ – grand jury report

Hundreds of Penn. children sexually abused by ‘predator priests’ – grand jury report

Over the course of 40 years, hundreds of children in Pennsylvania were sexually abused by dozens of Roman Catholic priests, a new state grand jury report said, adding that the behavior was also covered up by bishops.

"The heinous crimes these children endured are absolutely unconscionable," said state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, according to Reuters. "These predators desecrated a sacred trust and preyed upon their victims in the very places where they should have felt most safe."

The grand jury report highlighted abuse by some 50 priests, describing victims that were incredibly traumatized and at least one that took their own life as a result. It also names former Altoona-Johnstown Diocese Bishop James Hogan, who died in 2005, and his immediate successor Joseph Adamec, who retired in 2011, saying they “failed to protect children” due to “the desire to avoid public scandal.”

Additionally, the report said that the leaders allowed accused priests to return to ministry “with full knowledge they were child predators.”

“As wolves disguised as the shepherds themselves – these men stole the innocence of children by sexually preying upon the most innocent and vulnerable members of society and of the Catholic faith,” the report states.

According to Patch.com, the grand jury heard testimonies detailing descriptions of groping by priests. Some children were also given alcohol and pornography. In other cases, priests allegedly used hypnosis to push children to perform sexual acts.

While the Catholic Church has defrocked hundreds of priests over child abuse, and Pope Francis has begged for forgiveness over the scandal, critics and sex abuse survivors have argued that much more action is needed.

"We're saddened but not the least bit surprised," said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, to Reuters. "It proves what we've long maintained: that even now, under the guise of 'reform,' bishops continue to deceive parishioners and the public about their ongoing efforts to hide abuse."

Notably, the grand jury report stated that perpetrators can’t be prosecuted because the statute of limitations for many of the crimes has expired, and many of those accused are deceased.

It suggested that lawmakers abolish the statue of limitations for sexual offenses against minors and that they suspend the statue of limitations for all sexual abuse victims so their cases can be heard. Additionally, the grand jury recommended that possible criminal conduct be reported directly to law enforcement rather than simply allow administrative leaders make changes.

In a statement, the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese said it has fully cooperated with the investigation and will continue to do so.

"This is a painful and difficult time,” said Altoona-Johnstown Bishop Mark Bartchak. "I deeply regret any harm that has come to children, and I urge the faithful to join me in praying for all victims of abuse.”