Avoid scandal. Use euphemisms. Ask inadequate questions. Lock complaints away in a “secret archive.” Do not tell the police.
Those are some of the tactics that leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania used to conceal child sexual abuse by priests over 70 years, said a grand jury report released Tuesday.
“It’s like a playbook for concealing the truth,” said the grand jury, whose investigation identified more than 1,000 sexual abuse victims in six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania.
Special agents from the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime reviewed evidence collected by the grand jury, the report said, and identified a series of practices that were regularly used by the six dioceses to cover up reports of abuse. “While each church district had its idiosyncrasies, the pattern was pretty much the same,” the report said. “The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid ‘scandal.’ That is not our word, but theirs; it appears over and over again in the documents we recovered.”
Here is how the grand jury, in caustic terms, described the Catholic Church’s methods for covering up abuse and protecting priests:
“First, make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents. Never say ‘rape’; say ‘inappropriate contact’ or ‘boundary issues.’
“Second, don’t conduct genuine investigations with properly trained personnel. Instead, assign fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions and then make credibility determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work.
“Third, for an appearance of integrity, send priests for ‘evaluation’ at church-run psychiatric treatment centers. Allow these experts to ‘diagnose’ whether the priest was a pedophile, based largely on the priest’s ‘self-reports,’ and regardless of whether the priest had actually engaged in sexual contact with a child.
“Fourth, when a priest does have to be removed, don’t say why. Tell his parishioners that he is on ‘sick leave,’ or suffering from ‘nervous exhaustion.’ Or say nothing at all.
“Fifth, even if a priest is raping children, keep providing him housing and living expenses, although he may be using these resources to facilitate more sexual assaults.
“Sixth, if a predator’s conduct becomes known to the community, don’t remove him from the priesthood to ensure that no more children will be victimized. Instead, transfer him to a new location where no one will know he is a child abuser.
“Finally and above all, don’t tell the police. Child sexual abuse, even short of actual penetration, is and has for all relevant times been a crime. But don’t treat it that way; handle it like a personnel matter, ‘in house.’ ”