A recent Pennsylvania grand jury report identified 300 priests who had abused at least 1,000 children in six of the state’s dioceses. At least 30 of them, instead of being dismissed from the ministry, were sent to psychiatric clinics for treatment.
Pennsylvania law requires any sexual abuse to be reported to law enforcement, but the bishops and other church officials who were tasked with investigating allegations of abuse failed to adhere to that law. Instead, they sent the priests for “evaluation” at treatment centers run by the church.
Even When Treatment Centers Recommended Priests Be Removed, They Were Ignored
The psychiatric treatment centers most used for Pennsylvania predator priests included the St. Luke Institute in Maryland, St. John Vianney in Pennsylvania, and Southdown Institute in Ontario, Canada. At least 30 priests were sent to St. Luke, and at least 17 to St. John Vianney, while several others took “sabbaticals” at Southdown.
The St. Luke Institute states on its website that it is an “international Catholic education and treatment center dedicated to healthy life and ministry for priests, deacons, and religious. We bring the healing ministry of Christ to those we serve through integrated psychological, spiritual, and physical treatment and education.”
Spokeswoman for the Institute, Susan Gibbs, told USA Today that the treatment center was part of the solution: “By sending people to treatment, you’re giving them treatment that will hopefully end the abuse.”
In some cases, the Institute recommended that priests be removed from the ministry, but their recommendations were ignored.
Grand Jury Identifies Church’s Pattern of Covering Up Abuse
The grand jury identifies this process of sending priests to treatment centers as being part of the church’s pattern of covering up the abuse, a pattern they state was “pretty much the same” throughout all the church districts. “The main thing was not to help children,” the report reads, “but to avoid ‘scandal.’”
The strategies the church used included the following:
- They instructed officials to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe sexual assaults. Instead of saying “rape,” they would say “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues.”
- Instead of conducting genuine investigations with properly trained personnel, they assigned fellow clergy members “to ask inadequate questions an then make credibility determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work.”
- For an “appearance of integrity,” they sent priests under investigation to church-run psychiatric treatment centers for “evaluation.” Once the priests arrived at the treatment centers, church experts would determine whether they were pedophiles based largely on the priests’ “self-reports.”
- When a priest had to be removed, instead of being clear as to the reason why, church officials were directed to say nothing, or to say the individual was on “sick leave” or suffering from “nervous exhaustion.”
- Even if a priest was abusing children, the church still provided him with housing and living expenses, even if he was using these resources to continue his abuse.
- If the community became aware of the priest’s abusive conduct, instead of removing the priest from the church, the church simply transferred him to a new location where his abuse was unknown.
- In most cases, the church failed to report the abuse to the police.
Exclusively focused on representing plaintiffs, especially in mass tort litigation, Eric Chaffin prides himself on providing unsurpassed professional legal services in pursuit of the specific goals of his clients and their families. Both his work and his cases have been featured in the national press, including on ABC’s Good Morning America.