PENNSYLVANIA -- A new grand jury report says that internal documents from six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania show that more than 300 "predator priests" have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims.
"We believe that the real number of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward is in the thousands," the grand jury report says.
The lengthy report, released Tuesday afternoon, investigates clergy sexual abuse in six dioceses dating back to 1947. Pennsylvania's two other dioceses, Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown, were the subjects of earlier grand jury reports, which found similarly damaging information about clergy and bishops in those dioceses.
"There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church. But never on this scale," the grand jurors wrote in Tuesday's report.
"For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere."
The Church has said that the grand jury's inquiry dates to 1947.
Court action haD delayed the report's publication. A number of individuals named in the report claimed that its findings were false or misleading, that they were denied due process of law and that its release would impair their reputations.
On July 27, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the grand jury report to be released by 2 p.m. on Aug. 14 with redactions in sections where litigation was ongoing.
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro had written to the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, on July 25, requesting that the Pontiff direct church leaders to stop "efforts to silence the survivors."
"A comprehensive investigation by the Office of Attorney General found widespread sexual abuse of children and a systematic coverup by leaders of the Catholic Church," Shapiro said in his letter. "Last month I planned to release the findings of our investigation. As I prepared to do so, anonymous petitioners implicated in this report went to court to stop me and silence the victims ..."
Shapiro later issued a statement welcoming the state supreme court's decision to allow the report's release.
"Our fear throughout this process has been that the entire grand jury report would be shelved and victims' truth would be silenced," Shapiro said. "Today's order ensures that will not be the case -- the redacted report on widespread sexual abuse and cover up within the Catholic Church will be released."
"I will continue to fight to ensure every single victim is heard and every priest, bishop and church official is held accountable for their abhorrent conduct. No one victim's truth is any less important than another and no one's criminal conduct any less loathsome."
Harrisburg abuse list
On Aug. 1, the leader of one of the largest Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania released a list identifying 71 priests, deacons and seminarians accused of "substantiated" sexual misconduct over the past seven decades.
Bishop Ronald Gainer of the Harrisburg Diocese also issued an apology on behalf of the religious community.
"That conduct has left a legacy of pain and sorrow that is still being felt," he wrote. "I apologize for these actions."
While most men on the Harrisburg list are accused of sexually abusing children, others were investigated for inappropriate behavior, such as kissing or inappropriately communicating with a minor, Gainer wrote. Others were accused of viewing or possessing child pornography.
The list did not say how the diocese handled most of the accusations and did not give the men's current whereabouts, though a few cases that were forwarded to civil authorities were more detailed.
A long series of abuse allegations have rocked the world's 1.2 billion Catholics since the scope of systemic abuse and cover-ups began emerging in 2002.
In July, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick from the College of Cardinals, one of the church's most powerful bodies, amid allegations of molestation and sexual misconduct. McCarrick, 88, had been a popular and politically influential leader in Washington. He maintained his innocence in June against some claims and has been unavailable to comment on others.
The sexual abuse accusations against McCarrick reveal a "grievous moral failure" within the Catholic Church, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said July 31.
"Our Church is suffering from a crisis of sexual morality," Daniel DiNardo said. "The way forward must involve learning from past sins."