© 2020 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pa. Probe Examined Decades Of Sex Abuse Allegations Against Catholic Church

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A long-awaited report on child sex abuse within the Catholic Church is expected to be released in Pennsylvania this afternoon. This is the culmination of a nearly two-year grand jury investigation into six Pennsylvania dioceses. From member station WESA in Pittsburgh, An-Li Herring reports.

AN-LI HERRING, BYLINE: The grand jury investigation is expected to name more than 300 priests it says sexually abused minors or tried to cover up the abuse. The panel examined a span of more than 70 years. It heard testimony from grown men and women who say they were abused decades ago. Jim VanSickle was among them. He says he was first molested by a young priest in 1981.

JIM VANSICKLE: You know, not the - at the time, I don't think I would realize, but, you know, I was being groped. I was being touched in places where, you know, normally wouldn't allow that.

HERRING: VanSickle kept his trauma a secret for 36 years. He says his mental health and home life suffered because of it. But then he read in the news that someone else had accused the same priest of abuse.

VANSICKLE: My first feeling was for this kid. And I cried and I prayed that this young man wouldn't be alone. And that's why I stepped forward.

HERRING: VanSickle testified before the grand jury last year. His abuse, like many other cases, occurred too long ago to be prosecuted under Pennsylvania law. But the grand jury found that his alleged abuser victimized two other boys more recently, and the state's attorney general indicted the priest in those cases. The grand jury's unlikely to yield many more charges, but Father Tom Reese, a columnist at Religion News Service, says the investigation promotes transparency.

TOM REESE: We have to make sure that every child is safe, and we have to do our due diligence to make sure that that's a reality.

HERRING: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops enacted a series of reforms starting more than 15 years ago. Those moves were designed to address clergy sex abuse more directly. Kathleen McChesney, formerly a top-ranking official at the FBI, launched the group's Office of Child Protection to enforce prevention and reporting measures. She says Pennsylvania's investigation will help gauge their effectiveness.

KATHLEEN MCCHESNEY: Yeah, it's important to know whether or not the problem is being addressed and people are being held or were held accountable at the appropriate time.

HERRING: About two dozen current and former clergy have raised concerns about due process. They say the forthcoming grand jury report portrays them unfairly. They appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in June, asking that their names be withheld. That's why the findings are set to be released in redacted form today. The final report won't be made public until the court can consider the challengers' claims on an individual basis. That could be the last twist in an investigation some dioceses once tried to shut down altogether. Officials at all six Pennsylvania dioceses included in the probe now say they support releasing the grand jury's findings. For NPR News I'm An-Li Herring in Pittsburgh.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

We Need Your Help Now More Than Ever

WFAE mask

Our newsroom is hard at work covering everything from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to the aftermath of the election, the race for a vaccine and our communities' fight to rebuild. But we can't do it without you. Support our local journalism with a donation of ANY amount, and we’ll send you a free WFAE member mask courtesy of AllDayMask.com of Monroe.