In 2018, the public finally saw a Pennsylvania grand jury’s report into the Catholic Church’s abuses in six dioceses across the state. We learned that more than 300 priests were accused of abusing more than 1,000 children. The stories were absolutely horrific.
Many of those priests were dead. Of those who were alive, some couldn’t be prosecuted due to long-expired statutes of limitations. Even when the window hadn’t closed, airtight cases could only be brought against a couple of priests, who were subsequently convicted of crimes and are currently in jail.
But that grand jury report still had important repercussions. It exposed the fact that the Catholic Church and its leaders knew about those cases and covered them up in “secret archives.” It inspired over a dozen other attorneys general to launch their own investigations into the Catholic Church.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro, who pursued that case regardless of the consequences. Shapiro even said a year after the report was released that 1,862 new victims had come forward with their own allegations of sexual abuse. All of those allegations needed to be investigated, of course, but the point was that more alleged victims were finding the courage to speak out since they knew someone in power was taking them seriously. That was no small feat.
Shapiro is now the Democratic nominee for governor of the state, and the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, who’s always eager to defend the Church no matter what awful things it’s doing, is desperately trying to downplay what Shapiro helped uncover about the Catholic Church in an effort to hurt his campaign.
His latest argument boils down to three ideas:
- Many of the alleged offenders weren’t priests. (That’s misleading. Nearly all of the accusations were against priests.)
- Most of the victims “were adolescents, not children.” (I swear, he seriously said this.)
- They were just allegations. (Yes. There were lots and lots of allegations of child sexual abuse.)
When part of your defense rests on the idea that the victims were tweens, not toddlers, you know the Catholic League has lost the sexual abuse battle… Donohue actually wrote years ago that “it is wrong to give the impression that we are talking about 5-year-olds when more typically they were 15-year-olds,” as if that was an argument that made his side look better.
He also dismissed many of the allegations, saying they weren’t serious because “Most of the alleged victims were not raped: they were groped or otherwise abused, but not penetrated.” As if priests groping children was nothing more than innocent horseplay.
Donohue, who makes over $1,000,000 a year for issuing these kinds of statements, hasn’t altered his beliefs at all since writing all that in 2018. Instead, he’s doubling down, furious at the fact that Shapiro’s campaign website says he “exposed the Catholic Church’s decades-long cover up of child sexual abuse”:
Importantly, nothing could be done about most of those who were actually guilty. Almost all the accused were either dead or had been thrown out of the priesthood. No wonder Shapiro was able to prosecute only two priests. He knew this from the get-go, but he used the report to push for a suspension of the statute of limitations.
Shapiro misused the grand jury for political purposes, and now he is at it again.
The idea that most of the Catholic priests who molested children were now dead, therefore it was wrong to open the legal window for other victims of sexual abuse to go after their assailants, is truly some broken brain thinking. Donohue believes predator priests should be off the hook as long as they committed their crimes decades ago. Notice he pays zero attention to how all these predators were able to get into the priesthood, or whether there’s anything systemic about the Church itself that allows sexual abuse to thrive, or how the Church has had to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars per year to settle cases of sex abuse.
He just doesn’t care.
He reserves all his anger for the guy who helped bring all this to light, not the priests who assaulted children.
The Church’s hierarchy, secrecy, money, and culture created an environment where abuse became commonplace and priests knew they could get away with it. If that’s no longer the case, it’s because secular reporters and Democratic AGs took action, not because the Vatican changed how it operates.
That’s not religious profiling; that’s following the evidence. That’s logic and reason. That’s why Donohue doesn’t understand it.
The grand jury report was a bombshell that opened the door to widespread investigations into Church abuse that are still ongoing today. We still need to update laws regarding abuse to eliminate statutes of limitations. We still need to provide counseling and justice for abuse victims wherever both aren’t fully available to them. We still need better ways to investigate abuse claims. But because so many victims have been willing to relive the worst moments of their lives, there’s a clear path forward when it comes to stopping these abuses from continuing into the future, no matter how much the Catholic League complains.
Donohue and the Catholic League don’t give a damn about whether there are thousands of victims at a time. He doesn’t think about them. He doesn’t defend them. He certainly won’t fight on their behalf. His only allegiance is to the institution that sheltered abusers.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)