State clergy abuse hotline fielded 1,900 calls in first year
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Investigators are working their way through accusations from 1,862 calls made to a clergy abuse hotline in the 12 months since a landmark grand jury report exposed decades of child abuse within Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses, the state attorney general said Tuesday.
About 90% of those calls concerned allegations of abuse or cover-ups within the Catholic church, Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. The rest were about institutions or people outside the Catholic church.
“We’ve gotten calls that have materialized into charges that were filed,” Shapiro said. “One case involved charges that were filed by the Allegheny County district attorney. Others are being investigated by other law-enforcement agencies, including our own.”
Shapiro said he has been stopped daily by people who are grateful for the investigation or want to tell him their own stories of victimization.
“It has happened to me at big, formal events with public figures, and it has happened to me walking through the supermarket, buying food for my family,” he said.
The August 2018 grand jury report , drawing from diocesan records, concluded that 300 priests had sexually abused at least 1,000 children going back to the 1940s, and said church officials had been involved in covering up abuse cases. Many of the attacks occurred decades ago, far outside time limits under Pennsylvanian law for civil or criminal cases to be pursued.
Pennsylvania dioceses established compensation funds after the report was released and have been evaluating claims and making payments.
The Diocese of Allentown said Tuesday its response to the report has also included publishing names of accused priests, appointing an official to oversee abuse prevention and child safety, paying millions in victim compensation and improving its coordination with law enforcement.
Shapiro, a Democrat, blamed Senate Republicans for blocking a vote on four reforms the grand jury recommended — to allow a period for victims to sue over claims that would otherwise be too old to pursue, to eliminate any age limit for child sexual abuse victims in criminal cases, to toughen rules for people in certain positions to report suspected abuse and to end nondisclosure agreements that keep victims from cooperating with criminal investigations.
The state House voted in April for tougher reporting standards and to make it explicit that nondisclosure terms in contracts cannot prevent people from talking to police in child molestation investigations.
It also overwhelmingly approved legislation to eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse crimes and to begin the process of amending the state constitution to create a two-year window for victims to file civil lawsuits.