Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during an Aug. 14 news conference (CNS photo/Reuters video)

When the report of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury on sexual abuse of minors in six Catholic dioceses of the state was published last August, most of the media coverage was based only on the twelve pages of the introduction (of a total of 1,356 pages) and on the relaying of some particularly disgusting cases. 

Now, Commonweal magazine has published a detailed article by former editor Peter Steinfels, who analyses the report and shows its inaccuracies and limitations.

The Grand Jury, Steinfels points out, is an institution run by the prosecutor, who operates behind closed doors and without listening to the defense, and whose function is not to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused, but to see if there are enough reasons to initiate a process (see Aceprensa, 08-23-2018 ). In the report of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury, says Steinfels, two types of accusations are made: one, “terribly true”, against abusive clerics, and another, “inaccurate and unjust”, that “all victims have been ignored in all the sites by the leaders of the Church, who have preferred to protect the abusers and the institution. “

Steinfels, who for several years was a religion writer for the New York Times, criticizes the “binary” approach of the report; the idea that, for example, if you do not admit that all the victims have been ignored, you are saying that no victim has been. Steinfels believes that the Grand Jury could have obtained precise and instructive results about what the various bishops have done in different dioceses over several decades, instead of making generalizations encompassing all situations in the same explanation.

He criticizes the fact that in the report “there are no numerical references. It is not calculated, for example, how many priests have served in the six dioceses since 1945, a figure that could serve to verify or question previous estimates about the prevalence of sexual abuse among clergy. There is no effort to detect statistical trends about the age of the abusers, the evolution of the number of abuses in the course of time, the initiatives of the civil authority or changes in the response of the Church. Nor are comparisons made with other institutions. ” Instead, “the report treats the seven decades from 1945 to today as a single block.”

As for the response of the Church, Steinfels criticizes the report of the prosecutor who does not distinguish between what was done in one diocese and in another, between the behaviour of one bishop and another. “Why does such a long and elaborate report treat all the bishops of the six dioceses in the seven decades in the same way? Why do you dedicate 800 pages to detailing sexual acts and only a dozen to a more precise analysis of the results?” he asks. 

In his opinion, the real motive has to do with one of the four final recommendations of the report: that of eliminating the statute of limitations for crimes of sexual abuse of minors – already extended several times — so that in the event of a claim, the real abusers, who are dead or have no money, will not pay. Rather, it will be Catholics who had nothing to do with the crimes who pay.

Steinfels stresses that the “Dallas Charter,” passed in 2002 by the US Episcopal Conference after the scandal broke in Boston, made a real difference to how sexual abuse was handled. “All the measures taken in the course of the last fifteen years, investigations into abuses of the past, the suspension of abusive priests, dialogue and assistance to victims, courses in seminars on prevention in the case of working with children … [is] an evolution that the Grand Jury report ignores. 

“The Dallas Charter “is working,” says Steinfels. On the other hand, the Grand Jury “does not demonstrate the sensational accusation contained in its introduction, that is to say, that in six dioceses the authorities of the Church have systematically ignored the victims and have done absolutely nothing in the face of these horrible crimes, except to hide them.”

Translated and republished from Aceprensa with permission.

See also MercatorNet’s previous coverage: Damning report slams sex abuse in Pennsylvania by Catholic priests, by Michael Cook