‘Overwhelming tragedy’: More than 600 children abused by Baltimore’s Catholic Church over 60 years, report says

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More than 600 children were abused by clergy belonging to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore over more than 60 years, according to a new report released by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.

Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown released a redacted version of the “Report on Child Sexual Abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore” on Wednesday, which was based on a grand jury investigation that began in 2018.

According to the report, the Archdiocese of Baltimore had 156 abusers in its ranks, which included priests, deacons, seminarians and other employees of the Church body, whose abuses took place from the 1940s into the early 21st century.

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“The incontrovertible history uncovered by this investigation is one of pervasive and persistent abuse by priests and other Archdiocese personnel. It is also a history of repeated dismissal or cover up of that abuse by the Catholic Church hierarchy,” stated the report.  

“While every victim’s story is unique, together they reveal themes and behaviors typical of adults who sexually abuse children, and of those who enable abuse by concealing it. What was consistent throughout was the absolute authority and power these abusive priests and church leadership held over victims, their families, and their communities.”

Victims of the clergy often included children who were “especially isolated or vulnerable because of shyness, lack of confidence, or problems at home,” noted the report, with abusers also preying upon children who were especially active in church, like choir members and altar servers.

“They groomed the victims with presents and special attention. They told their victims the abuse was ‘God’s will’ and that no one would doubt the word of a priest,” the report continued.

“Some threatened that the victim or victim’s family would go to hell if they told anyone. They attempted to normalize sexual behavior as ‘rough housing.’ When confronted, they denied the behavior if plausible. If denial was impossible, they would minimize the extent of the abuse and describe it as weakness or aberration.”

While estimating the number of victims to be more than 600, the report also speculated that “the number is likely far higher,” noting that sexual assault and rape are often underreported.

Brown said in a statement released Wednesday that the report showed “the depraved, systemic failure of the Archdiocese to protect the most vulnerable — the children it was charged to keep safe.”

“Based on hundreds of thousands of documents and untold stories from hundreds of survivors, it provides, for the first time in the history of this State, a public accounting of more than 60 years of abuse and cover-up,” Brown stated.

“Time and again, the Archdiocese chose to safeguard the institution and avoid scandal instead of protecting the children in its care. This Report shines a light on this overwhelming tragedy, and it was the courage of the survivors that made it possible.”

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori released a statement Wednesday in response to the report, calling it “a sad and painful reminder of the tremendous harm caused to innocent children and young people by some ministers of the Church.”

“To all survivors, I offer my most earnest apology on behalf of the Archdiocese and pledge my continued solidarity and support for your healing. We hear you. We believe you and your courageous voices have made a difference,” stated Lori.

“Through difficult, although deeply meaningful, meetings, I have experienced your brave witness, and the power of your words and testimony compel my personal conviction to ensure we do everything possible to prevent future incidents of abuse and promote healing for survivors.”

Lori also noted that both himself and his “immediate predecessors” have given “unyielding public acknowledgment of the horrors of this era.”

“In 2002, the Archdiocese publicly released the names of clergy members credibly accused of committing child sexual abuse, dating back to the 1930s. We continue to make public the names of abusers as we learn about them and as new accusations are reported,” he explained.

The archbishop also pointed to improvements toward accountability within the regional body, noting that the “Archdiocese is not the same organization it was when, as the report documents, cases of abuse peaked during the 1960s and 1970s.”

“Instances fell every year and every decade since then, alongside the development of canon and criminal law and Archdiocesan accountability standards and policies designed to protect children,” Lori said.

“Having spent four years investigating the Archdiocese, former Attorney General Brian Frosh signaled that the cultural changes, child protection policies and accountability measures the Archdiocese began implementing more than a generation ago have proven successful.”  

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