A landmark US investigation has found that more than 300 “predator priests” molested in excess of 1000 children in the state Pennsylvania in a case of institutionalised abuse dating back to the 1950s.
The grand jury report released Wednesday (AEST) echoes the findings of other church investigations around the country in its description of widespread sexual abuse by clergy and church officials’ concealment of the offending.
The report, which covered six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses, is the broadest examination yet by a government agency in the US of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the probe found a systematic cover-up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.
“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing, they hid it all,” he said.
The grand jury report said it believed the “real number” of abused children might be “in the thousands” since some records were lost and victims were afraid to come forward.
Despite the damning findings, few of the priests identified are likely to face criminal charges.
Church officials “routinely and purposefully described the abuse as horseplay and wrestling” and simply “inappropriate conduct,” Mr Shapiro said.
“It was none of those things. It was child sexual abuse, including rape.”