The days since the release of the long-delayed grand jury report issued by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro on Catholic sex abuse at six dioceses around the state have seen a flood of aftershocks related to revelations about sex abuse by clergy, covered up by other church members.
On Monday, Pope Francis released a lengthy letter apologizing for the misconduct exposed in the damning 844-page report – which accused some 300 church officials of victimizing roughly 1,000 children over 70 years.
AG Josh Shapiro said the Pope's letter is an important first step.
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“Pope Francis’ powerful letter acknowledges the painful truth that had been hiding in the shadows in Churches throughout Pennsylvania and appropriately focuses on the survivors who have suffered for too long,” Shapiro said in a statement issued on Monday. “The Pope has long been a fighter for the defenseless. As he notes in his letter, actions and sanctions to protect children and hold abusers and those who cover up abuse accountable have been 'delayed.'"
But Shapiro noted that the Pope's letter addressing the Catholic sex abuse isn't enough without substantive action to back it up, as the grand jury recommended in its report.
“It is my hope that, following the Holy Father’s words and teachings, Church leaders in Pennsylvania will cease their denials and deflections and now fully support the grand jury’s recommendations so that survivors have the opportunity to obtain justice and ensure this type of widespread abuse and cover-up never happens again,” Shapiro said.
Specifically, the grand jury recommended multiple changes, such as eliminating the criminal statute of limitations for abuse of children – which currently only allows victims to come forward until the age of 50.
The grand jury said a "civil window" for lawsuits must be created, calling the existing age limits "unacceptable." Current law says victims have 12 years to sue after turning 18, but victims in their 30s or older only have two years to sue. The grand jury said older victims should at least get another two years to sue.
The grand jury said laws should be changed to clarify that anyone has a duty to report abuse “while the person knows or has reasonable cause to believe the abuser is likely to commit additional acts of child abuse.”
Additionally, the grand jury said "that the Church has used confidentiality agreements as a way to silence abuse victims from speaking publicly or cooperating with law enforcement," according to the AG's office. They proposed a new statute that would clarify no "Civil Confidentiality Agreements" would prevent a victim from talking to police.
It remains to be seen if Pennsylvania legislators will take up these causes.
Aftershocks of Catholic sex abuse scandal
Meanwhile, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, now Archbishop of Washington, who was named in the grand jury report as allowing alleged Catholic sex abuse predators to continue serving in the ministry while serving as bishop of Pittsburgh, where an alleged 99 predators were identified, defended his reputation after the report came out.
"As I have made clear throughout my more than 30 years as a bishop, the sexual abuse of children by some members of the Catholic Church is a terrible tragedy, and the Church can never express enough our deep sorrow and contrition for the abuse, and for the failure to respond promptly and completely," Wuerl said. "While I understand this Report may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the Report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse."
Shapiro said that was false.
"Cardinal Wuerl is not telling the truth," Shapiro told CNN. "Many of his statements in response to the Grand Jury Report are directly contradicted by the Church's own documents and records from their Secret Archives. Offering misleading statements now only furthers the cover-up. ... [Wuerl] should heed the words of Pope Francis who validated our work in Pennsylvania and support the recommendations of the Grand Jury."
Since the grand jury report was released on Aug. 14, the AG's office's new hotline for clergy sex abuse complaints (888-538-8541) has reportedly received at least 300 calls
"Calls are surging to our special Clergy Abuse Hotline since the Grand Jury Report was released Tuesday," Shapiro said on Twitter. "We have trained, dedicated Agents on the line to listen to survivors and help. This is an active and ongoing investigation."