Sexual assault survivors shared their stories after a Pennsylvania grand jury report accused hundreds of Roman Catholic priests of assaulting children.
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, several of them detailed heart-wrenching accounts of alleged sexual abuse against 301 priests across six of the state’s eight dioceses.
“Who would’ve believed me?” Robert Corby, now 83, said Tuesday. “A priest in 1948 or ’47 would abuse you? Do that? Never heard of such a thing because they covered it up. They targeted me because I was fatherless.”
Pennsylvania’s attorney general released the scathing report that revealed the results of a two-year investigation into hundreds of sexual abuse allegations. The probe found that at least 1,000 children had been abused at the hands of Catholic clergy members, dating back to the 1940s.
“Predators in every diocese weaponized the Catholic faith and used it as a tool of their abuse,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Tuesday. “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.”
Another survivor, Sean Dougherty, 48, said he believes he’d been ”groomed” for abuse by the church at a young age.
“When you have the priest touching you every day, you know, that’s a hard memory to have,” Dougherty said. “You’re being groomed to get used to a grown man’s hands, you know, on you, regularly.
“This is not a vendetta against the church. We’re called survivors for a reason,” he added.
The investigation was based on official documents and secret archives from the church, according to the report. High-level church leaders allegedly covered up the abuse for years, fostering a “circle of secrecy,” Shapiro said.
“The cover up was sophisticated and, all the while, church leadership kept records of the abuse and the cover-up,” Shapiro said Tuesday. “They sought to do the same things that senior church leaders and the diocese we investigated have done for decades: bury the sexual abuse by priests upon children and cover it up forever. Shamefully.”
Pennsylvania’s report named hundreds of what it called “predator priests,” including one in Harrisburg, the late Rev. Augustine Giella, who allegedly molested five sisters from one family in the 1980s.
A Catholic school teacher reported the priest after hearing disturbing allegations but church officials dealt with the matter quietly, according to the grand jury. Giella retired voluntarily in 1988 and continued to molest girls into the 1990s, a common pattern in so many cases, according to the report.
Giella confessed to fondling one of the girls and taking photos of her unclothed, The Associated Press reported last month. He was facing sexual assault, child endangerment and child pornography charges in Ocean County, New Jersey, when he died in 1993, according to the AP.
Shapiro also called out Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the former bishop of Pittsburgh. Wuerl helped to protect allegedly abusive priests during his time as bishop of Pittsburgh, according to the report.
In his defense, Wuerl said in a statement, “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.”
“I sincerely hope that a just assessment of my actions, past and present, and my continuing commitment to the protection of children will dispel any notions otherwise made by this report.”
The Pennsylvania grand jury concluded that he reported some allegedly abusive priests to the Vatican but allowed other individual parishes to resolve the accusations in other cases.