More than 150 Catholic priests and clergy members associated with the Archdiocese of Baltimore were accused of “horrific and repeated” sexual abuse of at least 600 children since the 1940s, according to a Maryland Office of the Attorney General report made public on Wednesday.
The redacted report, released during Holy Week, listed every current or former clergy member or employee of the Archdiocese who was ever credibly accused of sexual abuse of a child between the 1940s and 2002. The list is based on hundreds of thousands of documents obtained through subpoena of church records and interviews with hundreds of victims and witnesses, according to the attorney general.
“The incontrovertible history uncovered by this investigation is one of pervasive and persistent abuse by priests and other Archdiocese personnel,” the report reads. “It is also a history of repeated dismissal or cover up of that abuse by the Catholic Church hierarchy.”
The report notes the number of victims and abusers is likely higher than what was included due to statistics of under-reporting of sexual abuse.
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Abuse was pervasive and covered up, report finds
Church abusers targeted children who were more vulnerable to abuse due to their shyness or problems at home, or children who were “devoted” to the church and participated in church programs.
“They told their victims the abuse was ‘God’s will’ and that no one would doubt the word of a priest. Some threatened that the victim or victim’s family would go to hell if they told anyone,” the report said.
Church officials who became aware of abuse displayed more empathy for the abusers than for the victims, the report concluded. If an investigation was conducted at all, it was done by unqualified church officials who often placed greater weight on an accused abuser’s denial than the account of a victim. The church gave no reason or a false reason for removing a priest from a parish, and often times relocated priests to new parishes with no warning to parishioners, the report said.
“Church documents reveal with disturbing clarity that the Archdiocese was more concerned with avoiding scandal and negative publicity than it was with protecting children,” according to the report.
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Some parishes had multiple abusers living and working there over many years. For example, the report says St. Mark Parish in Catonsville had 11 documented abusers from 1964 to 2004. St. Michael-Overlea in Baltimore and three other parishes had six abusers each in the time period covered by the report.
Most of the priests and officials who covered up their wrongdoings have died, according to the report, which does not “constitute findings of guilt.”
One priest, Joseph Maskell, was a subject of the Netflix documentary series “The Keepers” in 2017. Maskell was moved from two parishes in the 1960s because of reports of his “troubling behavior with children, including a fascination with the sexual fantasies and behavior of boy scouts,” the report says.
“Not only were the reports by multiple parents not investigated, reported to authorities, or publicized, he was assigned to be Chaplain at Archbishop Keough High School, an all-girls’ school. Maskell sexually abused at least 39 victims.”
Report comes as Maryland lawmakers pass abuse legislation
Maryland lawmakers on Wednesday also passed a bill to end the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits related to child sexual abuse. Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Robert Taylor said in his ruling to make the report public earlier this year that the report should be taken into account in that decision.
“The need for disclosure outweighs the need for secrecy,” Taylor said.
Currently, victims of child sexual abuse cannot bring civil suits after they turn 38 in Maryland. The bill will next be sent to the governor.
The investigation into the Archdiocese of Baltimore began in 2019 under former Attorney General Brian Frosh and released under Attorney General Anthony Brown, who took office in January. Frosh announced in November the report was complete and requested permission from Baltimore Circuit Court to make it public.
The court ordered the removal the names and titles of 37 people accused of wrongdoing — whose names came out during confidential grand jury proceedings — but will consider releasing a more complete version in the future.
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori wrote in a statement released Wednesday that he apologizes to all survivors on behalf of the Archdiocese and pledged “continued solidarity and support for your healing.”
“We hear you. We believe you and your courageous voices have made a difference,” Lori said.
“Today’s report from the Maryland Attorney General is first and foremost a sad and painful reminder of the tremendous harm caused to innocent children and young people by some ministers of the Church,” he said. “The detailed accounts of abuse are shocking and soul searing.”
Contributing: The Associated Press