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Pa. Probe Examined Decades Of Sex Abuse Allegations Against Catholic Church


A long-awaited report on child sex abuse within the Catholic Church is expected to be released in Pennsylvania this afternoon. This is the culmination of a nearly two-year grand jury investigation into six Pennsylvania dioceses. From member station WESA in Pittsburgh, An-Li Herring reports.

AN-LI HERRING, BYLINE: The grand jury investigation is expected to name more than 300 priests it says sexually abused minors or tried to cover up the abuse. The panel examined a span of more than 70 years. It heard testimony from grown men and women who say they were abused decades ago. Jim VanSickle was among them. He says he was first molested by a young priest in 1981.

JIM VANSICKLE: You know, not the - at the time, I don't think I would realize, but, you know, I was being groped. I was being touched in places where, you know, normally wouldn't allow that.

HERRING: VanSickle kept his trauma a secret for 36 years. He says his mental health and home life suffered because of it. But then he read in the news that someone else had accused the same priest of abuse.

VANSICKLE: My first feeling was for this kid. And I cried and I prayed that this young man wouldn't be alone. And that's why I stepped forward.

HERRING: VanSickle testified before the grand jury last year. His abuse, like many other cases, occurred too long ago to be prosecuted under Pennsylvania law. But the grand jury found that his alleged abuser victimized two other boys more recently, and the state's attorney general indicted the priest in those cases. The grand jury's unlikely to yield many more charges, but Father Tom Reese, a columnist at Religion News Service, says the investigation promotes transparency.

TOM REESE: We have to make sure that every child is safe, and we have to do our due diligence to make sure that that's a reality.

HERRING: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops enacted a series of reforms starting more than 15 years ago. Those moves were designed to address clergy sex abuse more directly. Kathleen McChesney, formerly a top-ranking official at the FBI, launched the group's Office of Child Protection to enforce prevention and reporting measures. She says Pennsylvania's investigation will help gauge their effectiveness.

KATHLEEN MCCHESNEY: Yeah, it's important to know whether or not the problem is being addressed and people are being held or were held accountable at the appropriate time.

HERRING: About two dozen current and former clergy have raised concerns about due process. They say the forthcoming grand jury report portrays them unfairly. They appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in June, asking that their names be withheld. That's why the findings are set to be released in redacted form today. The final report won't be made public until the court can consider the challengers' claims on an individual basis. That could be the last twist in an investigation some dioceses once tried to shut down altogether. Officials at all six Pennsylvania dioceses included in the probe now say they support releasing the grand jury's findings. For NPR News I'm An-Li Herring in Pittsburgh.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

An-Li became a reporter while completing her law degree at Stanford. In law school, she wrote about housing affordability, criminal justice and economic development, among other topics. She also served as the intern to NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg in Washington, DC, helping Ms. Totenberg to cover the U.S. Supreme Court and other legal matters. Originally from Pittsburgh, An-Li interned with the investigations team at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette before joining WESA in August 2017.