More than 300 Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing thousands of children in one US state
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More than 300 Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing thousands of children in one US state

AT LEAST 301 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused children while serving in active ministry, a new report from a grand jury alleges.

Investigators received "detailed accounts" from more than 1,000 victims, with the grand jury concluding the actual number of victims is likely far higher.

The abuse is alleged to have occurred over 70 years in six of the US state's eight dioceses.

According to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, there was a "systematic cover-up spanning decades by senior church leaders in Pennsylvania and the Vatican".

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Mr Shapiro added: "The grand jury uncovered credible evidence of sexual abuse against 301 predator priests.

"As shocking as that number is, the grand jury report notes that the jurors didn't automatically name every priest mentioned in the documents in the secret archives - they actually received files on more than 400 priests.

"As the grand jury found, the church showed complete disdain for victims".

Most victims were boys but some girls were also abused, the grand jury said.

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In one diocese in Pittsburgh, a group of at least four priests allegedly "groomed and abused" young boys using "whips, violence and sadism".

The grand jury's report recommends reforming the state's criminal and civil statutes of limitations on sexual abuse, explaining: "Almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted.

"Over 1,000 child victims were identifiable, from the church’s own records. We believe that the real number – of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward – is in the thousands.

"All of [the victims] were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by Church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all."

Mr Shapiro called on Church bishops in Pennsylvania to accept the recommendations.

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"Stand up today and announce your support for these common-sense reforms," he said.

"That’s the test that will determine whether things have really changed or if it will just be business as usual when the dust settles."

Around 100 of the accused priests had died while only two had been convicted of child sex abuse, the grand jury said.

Its report also detailed procedures allegedly used by the Church to suppress allegations of abuse, dubbing the methods "a playbook for concealing the truth".

First, Church officials would downplay sex crimes as "inappropriate contact", before having other priests ask "inadequate questions" of the accused instead of getting trained investigators to review the allegations.

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If they moved a priest accused of child abuse to another diocese, they would apparently lie to the community about the reason why.

"The Church... would tell parishioners that he is on ‘sick leave,’ or suffering from ‘nervous exhaustion.’ Or say nothing at all," the report said.