PHILADELPHIA --A grand jury issued a scathing critique yesterday of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, saying its former archbishops and other leaders concealed and facilitated clergy sex abuse of children for decades.
The grand jury, which investigated the archdiocese for more than three years, concluded that at least 63 priests -- and probably many more -- sexually abused hundreds of minors over the past several decades.
But even more disturbing, the jurors found, was the coverup by the two previous archbishops, Cardinals John Krol and Anthony J. Bevilacqua who, they concluded, ''excused and enabled the abuse" and put legal and financial interests and moral reputation of the archdiocese ahead of protecting the children entrusted to its care.
''Those choices went all the way to the top -- to Cardinal Bevilacqua and Cardinal Krol personally," the report states.
''The behavior of Archdiocese officials was perhaps not so lurid as that of the individual priest sex abusers. But in its callous, calculating manner, the Archdiocese's 'handling' of the abuse scandal was at least as immoral as the abuse itself."
Even so, District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said that ''regrettably," her office could bring no new charges against abusive priests, church officials, or the archdiocese itself.
She said legal problems, most notably the statute of limitations, meant criminal conduct would go unpunished.
In a blistering 70-page response, the church rejected virtually the entire report, calling it ''a vile, mean-spirited diatribe" -- comparable to the ''rampant Know-Nothingisms of the 1840s," a notorious period of anti-Catholic prejudice.
While condemning priests that abused, the church response vigorously defends Cardinal Krol and Bevilacqua.
It says the district attorney's report is ''rife with mistakes, unsupported inferences, and misguided conclusions."
The grand jury found that Krol, who served as archbishop from 1961 to 1988, and Bevilacqua, who served from 1988 to 2003, left abuser priests in parishes where they had access to children, or reassigned them to other parishes without notifying even the pastor.
The cardinals typically removed priests only when faced with the threat of lawsuit or scandal, the report found, and some archdiocesan leaders regularly lied to victims and their families when asked if an abuser had a prior record. Priest abusers were transferred to other parishes to hush up allegations; as a result, other children were victimized, the report found.
''What we found were not acts of God, but of men who acted in His name and defiled it," the grand jury said.
The victims of the abuse included:
An 11-year-old girl who was raped by her priest and became pregnant. The priest took her in for an abortion.
A fifth-grader who was molested inside a confessional booth.
A 12-year-old who, raped and sodomized by his priest, tried to commit suicide and remains in a mental hospital as an adult.
Another 12-year-old boy, repeatedly raped by his priest, was told by that priest that his mother had approved of the abuse.
Although outraged that so much abuse was allowed to go on for so long, the grand jury said with regret that a host of inadequate state laws prevented it from issuing any criminal indictments against the archdiocese or its leadership for its role in these crimes.
Because the allegations were old, priests couldn't be prosecuted because of a statute of limitations. And church officials couldn't be charged because of other gaps in state law.
''We are left, then, with what we consider a travesty of justice: a multitude of crimes for which no one can be held criminally accountable," the report said.