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Catholic Church Cover-up: 300 Priests Sexually Abused 1,000 Children in Pennsylvania

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In Pennsylvania, a grand jury report has revealed that more than 300 Catholic priests sexually abused 1,000 children, and possibly thousands more, over seven decades, and that church leadership covered up the abuse. On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro described harrowing accounts of priests raping young girls and boys, including one priest who raped a young girl in the hospital after she had her tonsils out. Another priest impregnated a young girl and then arranged for her to have an abortion. The report reveals that the church orchestrated a massive, systematic cover-up to conceal the abuse, including lying to the community about why a priest was removed from a parish, transferring predator priests rather than firing them, and locking abuse complaints away in what the church called a “secret archive.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In Pennsylvania, a new grand jury report has revealed how more than 300 Catholic priests sexually abused a thousand children, and possibly thousands more, over seven decades, and that the church leadership covered up the abuse. On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro described some of the report’s findings.

ATTORNEY GENERAL JOSH SHAPIRO: In the diocese of Pittsburgh, the grand jury named 99 priests who sexually abused children. A group of at least four predator priests in Pittsburgh groomed and violently sexually assaulted young boys. One boy was forced to stand on a bed in a rectory stripped naked and posed as Christ on the cross for the priests. They took photos of their victim, adding them to a collection of child pornography, which they produced and shared on church grounds. To make it easier to target their victims, the priests gave their favored boys gifts, gold crosses to wear as necklaces. The crosses were markings of which boys had been groomed for abuse.

AMY GOODMAN: The Pennsylvania report details how priests raped young girls and boys, including one priest who raped a young girl in the hospital after she had her tonsils out. Another priest impregnated a young girl, then arranged for her to have an abortion.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The report also reveals how the church orchestrated a massive, systematic cover-up to conceal the abuse, including lying to the community about why a priest was removed from a parish, transferring pedophile priests rather than firing them, and locking abuse complaints away in what the church called a, quote, “secret archive.” This is Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

ATTORNEY GENERAL JOSH SHAPIRO: All of the victims were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institutions above all. Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing, they hid it all, for decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected. Many, including some named in this report, have been promoted. Father Schlert, identified in the report, is now Bishop Schlert. Bishop Wuerl is now Cardinal Wuerl. Father Zubik is now Bishop Zubik. Predator priests were allowed to remain in ministry for 10, 20, even 40 years after church leaders learned of their crimes. In those years, their lists of victims got longer and longer.

AMY GOODMAN: While charges have been filed against two priests in Pennsylvania, the report states the statute of limitations has expired on almost all of the offenses. On Wednesday, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, sent a letter to the Justice Department demanding a federal investigation into church abuse. Pressure is also growing on Pope Francis to respond as church sex abuse scandals continue to grow across the globe.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In a moment, we’ll be joined by two guests: a survivor of sexual abuse by a Pennsylvania priest, and a former Catholic priest who now helps survivors. But first I’d like to turn to a video produced by the Office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General featuring the voices of several survivors of church abuse.

ROBERT CORBY: My name is Robert Corby, and I’m 83 years old.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: Shaun Dougherty, 48 years old.

CAROLYN FORTNEY: Carolyn Fortney, 37.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: I grew up in a small Western Pennsylvania town, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

ROBERT CORBY: I grew up in Bethlehem.

CAROLYN FORTNEY: Enhaut, which is like right behind Steel-High High School, Steelton area.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: I was groomed, starting young.

CAROLYN FORTNEY: The day I met him, I was—I was around 18 months old.

ROBERT CORBY: They targeted me because I was fatherless.

CAROLYN FORTNEY: I was in my diaper, and I ran out and ran right to him.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: We were taught, I mean, the priests and the nuns are God.

CAROLYN FORTNEY: I just think like the word “god” makes me think of him. And I just…

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: You’re being groomed to get used to a grown man’s hands, you know, on you regularly.

CAROLYN FORTNEY: So he would always have his hands on me.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: When you have the priest touching you every day, you know, that’s a hard memory to have. The first thought of an erection that you have in your life is by the hands of the priest.

ROBERT CORBY: All of a sudden he was gone.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: Father Koharchick, my eighth-grade year, was just up and moved, with no notice, no anything. The town was devastated. Everybody loved him.

CAROLYN FORTNEY: They haven’t found out yet.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: He abused it, and the church covered it up.

ROBERT CORBY: Who would have believed me? A priest, in 1948 or ’47, would abuse you or do that? They would never heard of such a thing, because they covered it up.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: It doesn’t ever go away. It has an effect on you for the rest of your life.

ROBERT CORBY: And I’m a survivor.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: This is not a vendetta against the church. We’re called survivors for a reason.

ROBERT CORBY: These are people that these priests ruined their lives. And they still—at 83 years old, still affects them.

CAROLYN FORTNEY: I just feel like I’ve—like my whole life has been a lie.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: Has absolutely destroyed me.

ROBERT CORBY: My children suffered. My wife suffered.

CAROLYN FORTNEY: My dad found out. But he went crazy.

ROBERT CORBY: I was very unaffectionate. I couldn’t show any affection with my wife.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: I had no desire to have children—none—because of this.

ROBERT CORBY: My children, I couldn’t hold or hug.

CAROLYN FORTNEY: I didn’t feel comfortable at all. I still don’t feel comfortable now in relationships.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: No kids for me.

ROBERT CORBY: That affection, I couldn’t give to her. And thanks to Father Royer, he took that away from me.

CAROLYN FORTNEY: I mean, it’s affected my life so much.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: This is a lifelong issue with survivors.

ROBERT CORBY: They have to be accountable, the church, for what they did.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: I’ve waited for a long time for this.

CAROLYN FORTNEY: I think this report is going to help people who don’t have a family, because they’re going to know that there’s a lot of people out there now that believe them and are behind them.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: This is one of the proudest things I’ve ever done in my life.

ROBERT CORBY: I’m so happy.

SHAUN DOUGHERTY: Speaking about your abuse is a very important step in the healing process.

ROBERT CORBY: I just was always saying, “They’re not going to beat me.”

CAROLYN FORTNEY: It’ll just be refreshing to not have to just pretend like I’m someone else all the time. It’s very lonely, especially when it’s your word against God’s.

AMY GOODMAN: Voices of victims of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania. When we come back, we’ll be joined by one of those victims, Shaun Dougherty, as well as a whistleblowing priest, Bob Hoatson. Stay with us.

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“This Church Is a Criminal Enterprise”: Former Priest & Survivor Speak Out on PA Catholic Sex Abuse

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