Praying to Heal

More than 300 priests in Pennsylvania’s Catholic Church accused of sexual abuse

By Olivia Dudley

“We feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite. With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them,” Pope Francis stated in his letter to the People of God on August 20th, 2018.

This Catholic Church scandal is larger than anyone could have imagined; over a thousand individuals are coming forward claiming that they were sexually abused by priests. A report released on August 14th, has detailed accounts of investigations dating back to 1947 where priests have been accused of preying on minors within the dioceses of Allentown, Scranton, Harrisburg, Greensburg, Erie, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  “There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church. But never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere,” The Grand Jury reports.

As these situations have arisen sporadically throughout the past several decades, with the exception of the 2002 scandal, it has been presumed that the Catholic Church has been covering up its tracks. With the outcry of over one thousand credible victims, it has become a difficult subject for anyone to avoid.

“Predators in every diocese weaponized the Catholic faith and used it as a tool of their abuse,” Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, stated in a press conference on August 14th. Shapiro then describes several situations in which, according to the Grand Jury report, priests would use the line “It’s okay because I’m a priest.” He then lists examples of this method being used on victims, one of the most disturbing being “Father Ed Graff told a seventh grader he abused that what they were doing was okay because the priest was an instrument of God.”

One victim reported that Father Edmund Parrakow would occasionally bring alter boys to his private quarters to “examine” them for signs of abuse, while reminding them not to tell their families about the examinations in order to keep themselves safe from harm.

After the release of these dark secrets, victims, and surviving family members of victims too bitterly affected by these crimes, have stood together in solidarity to seek justice against these “predator priests.” Many of the victims have hid the secret of their abuse for so long that it has affected their lives for reasons unknown to those around them. One gentleman, Jim VanSickle, states that he became closed off to those around him, eventually even including his wife and children, “They didn’t know which dad they were gonna get: the happy-go-lucky ‘I love you’ dad or the angry dad who’s frustrated with life and not happy whatsoever.”

It is likely that, due to a fear of coming forward or records being lost, the number of “predator priest” victims is much farther into the thousands than we can possibly imagine. In the August 14th conference, three victims discussed what had happened to them, in the end stating that coming forward about their abuse is not a “vendetta against the church” but that abusers have “to be accountable in the church for what they did.”

To read the entire Grand Jury Report, click here.


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