It has been described by a top Vatican official as a 9/11 moment for the Roman Catholic Church-a game changer with countless victims. Allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests, and a cover-up by the Church in the state of Pennsylvania. It has triggered investigations in other U.S. states, causing some to question whether this is a watershed moment for the Catholic Church.
CGTN’s Karina Huber reports.
Michael McDonnell grew up in an Irish-American Catholic family near Philadelphia. They were very active in the parish.
“I was a young kid who loved the Church, who loved the liturgy, who loved everything about serving as an altar boy,” said McDonnell.
But at the age of 11 that faith was rocked. He says he was sexually abused by not one but two priests. It started with inappropriate talk.
“There were many instances of sick talk and forced confessions – even to force you to confess doing vile things that you never really did. It was almost as though he just wanted to listen and hear somebody say it,” said McDonnell.
The alleged abuse lasted for two years. One of the worst incidences occurred at the country home of one of the priests.
“He insisted I slept in the same bed with him and I woke up to find myself stripped and his hands groping me and fondling every part of my body. I pretended to be asleep hoping and praying that it would stop – eventually it would stop,” said McDonnell.
McDonnell says the abuse did eventually stop but he kept it a secret for a long time.
“These Catholic priests had a lot of power in our lives. Their hands represented the hands of Christ to us here on earth. So we obeyed them,” said McDonnell.
At the age of 12 – a year after the alleged abuse began – McDonnell had his first taste of alcohol that he says lead to a decades long addiction. It was only at the age of 35 that he was able to grapple with what happened.
McDonnell’s story mirrors that of many in his state. A grand jury report by Pennsylvania’s attorney-general alleges more than 300 priests sexually abused over a thousand minors in the state over a period of 70 years.
“You see Church officials routinely and purposefully described the abuse as horseplay and wrestling and inappropriate contact. It was none of those things. It was child sexual abuse including rape committed by grown men,” said Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General.
Few priests have faced penalties because charges tend to come decades after the alleged abuse, beyond the statute of limitations.
Since the more than 1400-page grand jury report was released eight more states have launched investigations of their own.
In New York, the attorney-general has subpoenaed all eight of the states’ Catholic diocese demanding all documents related to accusations of sexual abuse. It has also set up a hotline for victims.
Shortly after the launch of the NY investigation, the archdiocese of Brooklyn agreed to pay more than 27 million dollars to four victims of abuse at the hands of one priest in the early 2000s.
The Pope has also summoned the presidents of the worlds bishops to an unprecedented meeting in February to discuss abuse in the church.
McDonnell thinks it’s too little, too late.
“There’s an international airport not far from us. He has the means to get over here and have meetings with the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops. Why are we waiting until February? To let the dust settle down? This is typical response of the Roman Catholic Church,” said McDonnell.
McDonnell and other victims want to see the Vatican support state reforms to their statutes of limitations. That would allow victims to file claims even if the abuse occurred decades ago.