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‘Horrific and Repeated’—Over 600 Children Were Sexually Abused by 156 Church Leaders in Maryland, Says New Report

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Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore, Maryland. Farragutful, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

[Editor’s note: This article contains information about sexual abuse that some readers may find disturbing and/or triggering.

One hundred fifty-six Catholic church leaders sexually abused more than 600 children over a period of 80 years within the Archdiocese of Baltimore, according to a redacted, 456-page report released Wednesday by Maryland State Attorney General (AG) Anthony Brown. The incriminating report reveals a “long and sordid history” of abuse and abuse cover-ups within the archdiocese.

“The incontrovertible history uncovered by this investigation is one of pervasive and persistent abuse by priests and other Archdiocese personnel,” says the report. “It is also a history of repeated dismissal or cover up of that abuse by the Catholic Church hierarchy. While every victim’s story is unique, together they reveal themes and behaviors typical of adults who sexually abuse children, and of those who enable abuse by concealing it. What was consistent throughout was the absolute authority and power these abusive priests and church leadership held over victims, their families, and their communities.”

The report notes that the number of victims is “likely far higher,” citing a study that found “only 11.9% of women who were raped before the age of 18 reported it to the police or any other authority and were less likely to report if the rapist was known to them.” 

Archdiocese of Baltimore Actively Concealed Abuse

The Archdiocese of Baltimore, which includes nine counties within the state of Maryland, but does not cover the entire state, was the first diocese the Catholic Church established in the United States. Furthermore, it has had “a special prominence” within the Catholic church in the U.S., says the report.

Prior to Maryland AG’s investigation, a 2018 grand jury report found that more than 300 priests abused more than 1,000 children from the 1940s through the early 2000s in six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania. The grand jury’s shocking findings prompted investigations in other states, including Illinois and Nebraska. Soon after the Pennsylvania report was released, Maryland’s then-Attorney General Brian Frosh launched the investigation that has led to the present findings. 

“In 2018, the Maryland Office of the Attorney General launched a Grand Jury investigation into the Archdiocese of Baltimore, examining criminal allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy, seminarians, deacons, and employees of the Archdiocese,” says the report. “The Office of the Attorney General also set out to investigate efforts by the leadership of the Catholic Church to hide sexual abuse.”

The results of this investigation, which examined “hundreds of thousands of documents dating back to the 1940s,” are upsetting. The report states: 

As the case descriptions in this Report make clear, from the 1940s through 2002, over a hundred priests and other Archdiocese personnel engaged in horrific and repeated abuse of the most vulnerable children in their communities while Archdiocese leadership looked the other way. Time and again, members of the Church’s hierarchy resolutely refused to acknowledge allegations of child sexual abuse for as long as possible. When denial became impossible, Church leadership would remove abusers from the parish or school, sometimes with promises that they would have no further contact with children. Church documents reveal with disturbing clarity that the Archdiocese was more concerned with avoiding scandal and negative publicity than it was with protecting children.