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Pennsylvania hotline swamped with new Catholic priest sex abuse allegations

A week after the Pennsylvania report, people are calling in new allegations of Catholic clerical sex abuse.

Annual Blue Mass Held In Support Of Law Enforcement Officers And First Responders At St. Patrick’s
St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Washington, DC, in May 2017.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Officials at a clerical sex abuse hotline are scrambling to keep up with hundreds of new allegations following the publication of a Pennsylvania grand jury report last week, documenting at least 1,000 survivors of sex abuse by more than 300 priests across the state.

NPR’s Bobby Allyn reports that those 1,000 cases may have just been the tip of the iceberg. Since the report’s publication, people have made more than 400 calls to the phone line handling clerical sex abuse tips, which is managed by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office. The deluge of calls prompted the AG to recruit additional staff from other departments to keep up.

Other private hotlines, such as the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), have also been inundated. Melanie Sakoda, SNAP’s secretary, told Allen, “We have been caught a little bit short-handed.” Calls have been coming in both from concerned Catholics hoping to help victims and victims who have discovered that their abuser is — or, perhaps more troublingly, is not — on the grand jury’s list.

The report, the result of a two-year investigation spearheaded by the attorney general’s office, lists more than 1,000 instances of abuse dating back to the 1940s. The report also indicts a wider culture of silence and secrecy among church officials, who frequently declined to inform law enforcement authorities of any allegations, choosing instead to quietly shuffle offending priests from parish to parish where they would remain in continued contact with children.

Complicating matters is the age of many of these cases. The majority of them took place in the 1970s and 1980s and are beyond the statute of limitations. Under Pennsylvania law, which is among the most restrictive in the country, victims of child sex abuse can only file civil charges against an abuser before they turn 30, and criminal charges before they turn 50.

Victim advocates in the state are currently lobbying for an expansion of these laws, and a bill currently before the state House would raise the ceiling for civil charges to age 50 and do away with age restrictions for criminal charges altogether for cases going forward.

However, it is unclear what, if any, implications this would have for those who have already missed the window for pursuing justice.

Joe Grace, a representative of the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, told Allen that information gleaned from the hotlines was integral in the formation of the grand jury report and will remain vital in identifying and potentially charging abusers when possible.

“They’re recording facts and then decisions will be made — and are being made — to investigate further when it is appropriate,” he said.