Calls to Pennsylvania attorney general’s sex abuse hotline continue to surge
Calls continued to surge over the weekend into a hotline Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro established in the wake of the grand jury report investigating child sex abuse in six Catholic dioceses across the state.
As of Monday afternoon, the hotline logged more than 400 calls, said Shapiro spokesman Joe Grace. More than 100 of those contacts were made Monday.
That’s far more than the number of calls first reported by Shapiro’s office on Wednesday, a day after the unveiling of the grand jury report targeting 301 alleged or known abusive priests in the Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses.
“Every call is being returned ultimately by an agent,” Grace said.
The attorney general’s office is pulling agents from other units, including the child predator unit, so that every call gets a prompt return and investigation, he said.
The two-year grand jury ended in April, but the investigation is ongoing, officials have said.
Most of the complaints outlined in the grand jury investigation cannot be followed up with criminal charges because they’re barred by the statute of limitations. It’s unknown if any of the calls received thus far fall within the statute of limitations.
Two priests have been charged as a result of the investigation. The Rev. John T. Sweeney, a Greensburg Diocese priest, pleaded guilty last month to indecent assault on a child under 14. The Rev. David Poulson, a priest in the Diocese of Erie, is facing charges for allegedly abusing at least two boys.
More than 50 priests in the Allentown Diocese were named in the report or on the diocese’s list. None is in active ministry, diocesan officials said.
Meantime, Shapiro cited a letter issued Monday by Pope Francis to continue his push for accountability for committing crimes and covering up abusers’ actions.
The pope condemned the decades-long scandal, saying the church failed the most vulnerable in society.
“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives,” the pope wrote. “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
He said a pervasive “clericalism” -- the elevation of priests’ power over the laity -- was at the root of the abuse scandal.
In response, Shapiro said, “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.
“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,’” the attorney general’s statement said.
Shapiro repeated his call to implement the grand jury’s recommendations, which include ending the criminal statute of limitations, opening up a two-year window allowing survivors to file civil lawsuits; tightening up the state’s mandatory reporter law, and ending nondisclosure agreements in criminal cases.
Even after the release of the grand jury report, Shapiro said, church officials have used “denials and deflections” to avoid accountability.
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is opposed to giving survivors the two-year window to file suit retroactively, saying it is unconstitutional and unfairly targets private and nonprofit organizations, while allowing public institutions, such as public schools, to claim sovereign immunity.