Political News

'There is a reckoning going on in this country right now,' says Pennsylvania attorney general

Posted February 7, 2019 5:27 p.m. EST

— "There is a reckoning going on in this country right now," Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said.

"We have to stand up and say that we're going to put people before powerful institutions, that we are not going to let -- whether it's the church, or some university, or Hollywood, or politics or business community -- ever put their particular interests above the needs of those that they are supposed to represent and care for," Shapiro told David Axelrod on The Axe Files, a podcast from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN.

Shapiro did just that within his first week as Pennsylvania attorney general in 2017, when he was briefed on grand jury investigations into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. He decided to put the "full force" of his office behind continuing the investigation.

"The grand jury ultimately found thousands of children who were abused by 301 predator priests and a systematic cover-up by church leaders that stretched all the way to the Vatican. It was something that we simply couldn't walk away from," he said.

"It breaks my heart that they have prioritized the reputation of their institution over the needs of these children."

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Timothy L. Doherty, the chair of the bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, said at the time the grand jury report was released last summer, "The report of the Pennsylvania grand jury again illustrates the pain of those who have been victims of the crime of sexual abuse by individual members of our clergy, and by those who shielded abusers and so facilitated an evil that continued for years or even decades."

"As a body of bishops, we are shamed by and sorry for the sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic bishops," they said in a statement.

The Vatican declined to comment on the report at the time.

Here are three things Shapiro revealed about sexual abuse in the church:

1) The Catholic Church keeps secret records

The church went to court to try to stop the investigation even though the grand jury's findings were based on the church's own records.

"After the abuse occurred and someone would show up and tell the priest or tell the bishop what happened, they would write it all down. And then they would lock it up in the secret archive and they would lie to law enforcement, they would lie to parishioners, they'd lie to the media and those inquiring, or they would hide it."

According to Shapiro, these documents were hidden to protect the church's reputation and to get outside the scope of the statute of limitations on reporting crimes. In Pennsylvania, juvenile victims of abuse have until five years after their 18th birthdays to come forward.

2) This is not an issue of the past

Shapiro said it is "simply not true" that things have changed in the church.

"Since we released the grand jury report in August, my office has received nearly 1,500 calls to our clergy abuse hotline. Many of those calls represent new information that either we or some other law enforcement agency (is) investigating."

The solution, Shapiro said, is a change of disciplinary authority.

"The church simply cannot police itself. And so I believe what has to happen is for all of the church leadership to recognize, as the Pope has, these horrors that have occurred ... and invite secular authorities in to be a part of the solution together with the church."

3) Many involved in the scandal are still in power

"In addition to the abuse that was uncovered, there was a systematic cover-up," Shapiro said.

"People who participated in that cover-up documented in the church's own records and confirmed in the grand jury, they are still in positions of power."

Shapiro cited Cardinal Donald Wuerl in Washington, who resigned in October, and various bishops in Pennsylvania as examples.

"I can tell you that no one would ever be working for me if they were involved in a cover-up of this magnitude. The idea that some of these folks can continue in positions of leadership is shocking to me and, by the way, shocking to many parishioners that I hear from in Pennsylvania and across the country."