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John Baer

In anticipation of findings, however redacted, of a statewide grand jury investigation into sex abuse in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses, I revisited a 2005 grand jury report on the same topic in Philadelphia.

Thirteen years later, it’s as horrific as it was back then.

Findings included “how dozens of priests (at least 63) sexually abused hundreds of children” and “how Philadelphia Archdiocese officials — including Cardinal (Anthony) Bevilacqua and Cardinal (John) Krol — excused and enabled the abuse.”

Details were sickening.

“We mean rape. Boys who were raped orally, boys who were raped anally, girls who were raped vaginally.”

Specifics were worse.

An 11-year-old girl whose priest raped her, and when she became pregnant took her for an abortion.

A boy who woke intoxicated in a priest’s bed to find a priest performing oral sex on him while three other clerics watched.

There was much more.

And the cover-up was found to be “at least as immoral as the abuse itself.”

After the report’s release, I wrote the shortest column of my career. Three sentences: “Know what I hope? I hope all those Catholic priests are right. I hope there is a hell.”

Now, here we go again. Another grand jury. More specifics. And, no doubt, more immoral cover-up.

The issue, if one can call it that — it’s more of an abomination — always raised questions for me because of my own education.

As the product of a Catholic grade school, a Catholic high school and an all-male Catholic college, I never once heard a whisper of anything approaching sexual abuse by clergy. Never.

Last week, the Diocese of Harrisburg released (and then updated this week) a list of 72 names of priests, other clergy and seminarians accused of sexual abuse of children. (Of the accused, 37 have ties to Lancaster County, LNP reported Wednesday).

The list included priests I knew or met as a high school student, or later in Catholic parishes. One named priest was a fellow student of mine in grade school.

But, like most veteran journalists, I’m long since inoculated against surprise. I wasn’t stunned to find familiar names.

In fact, it underscored my troubled thinking on the topic. Which is this: Clearly, abuse has always been there. Imagine the pained silence of generations. How many never came forward? How many still don’t? How many never will?

And the torment is the fact that evil done by “men of God” hidden for so long is doubly malevolent. It allowed more evil to stay hidden longer.

It prevented — long overdue — child-protection efforts by the church, from Rome on down, that could have started decades ago.

There could have been fewer victims. There could have been transparency, education, moral leadership.

As is, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s grand jury report is to be released any day now after a nearly two-year investigation of the Dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton.

It’s 900 pages, covers decades and found more than 300 “predator priests.”

The state Supreme Court ordered its release after a legal fight but agreed to redact names of those challenging findings on grounds their rights weren’t represented in front of the grand jury.

Shapiro has been aggressive. With the investigation. In fighting for release of findings. Even in writing Pope Francis for aid in ending church resistance to making findings public.

So, he was blasted this week by the Catholic League, a New York-based antidefamation group, as “Salacious Shapiro,” interested solely in embarrassing the church with explicit details of abuse.

A statement from league president Bill Donohue argues Shapiro singled out the church: “A grand jury report on sexual misconduct in any institution could also serve the prurient interests of the public.”

This is the ever-popular everybody-does-it defense. But crimes are crimes. And crimes committed against children are the worst. Especially when committed by clergy. Then covered up. Why wouldn’t any prosecutor always go after the worst?

I suspect among hard-core church supporters there’s an ugly undercurrent of, well, you know, Shapiro’s Jewish, as is former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who released the 2005 report. And isn’t that a little suspicious?

No. That’s a little anti-Semitic.

And as for me? I still hope there’s a hell.

John Baer is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News; his column is syndicated by MCT. Email:

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