HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM/WKBN) - A grand jury that investigated child sexual abuse by priests and other clergy members in six Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania says more than 1,000 victims were identifiable from church 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," the report reads.
The grand jury report was released Tuesday. It is said to be the largest and most exhaustive review by any state.
"There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic church but never on this scale," the report reads.
"We heard the testimony of dozens of witnesses concerning clergy sex abuse. We subpoenaed and reviewed half a million pages of internal diocesan documents. They contained credible allegations against over 300 predator priests."
The report says most of the victims were boys, but girls were abused, too. Some were teens, and many were prepubescent. Some were manipulated with alcohol or pornography, and some were raped.
"But all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all," the report says.
The grand jury called on the state Legislature to abolish prosecution time limits in sexual abuse cases. Current law permits victims to come forward until age 50, but many of the victims who came forward were in their 50s, 60s and 70s. One victim was 83 years old.
The report also calls for a "civil window" law that would let older victims sue the diocese. The law currently gives child sex abuse victims 12 years to sue once they turn 18.
The report was redacted to remove the names of priests and others who objected to the findings.
Read: Grand Jury Report
The Diocese of Erie responded to the allegations with its own press conference on Tuesday.
Bishop Lawrence Persico said he wanted to express his sorrow and apologize to the victims.
"You were betrayed by people holding themselves out as servants of God, teachers of children or leaders in the community," he said.
He said the Diocese is committed to transparency and will not hide information on suspected child abusers. He said steps are being taken to ensure that this doesn't happen again.
He added that the Diocese will pay for victims' counseling, regardless of how long ago that the abuse occurred.
You can watch that press conference on the Erie Diocese's Facebook page.
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