An explosive grand jury report on child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania has called into question the actions — or inaction — of the late Cardinal William H. Keeler, the former archbishop of Baltimore who was once hailed for his transparency in handling such cases.
Keeler is accused of allowing a priest who was accused of having sex with underage girls in Harrisburg to resume his ministry in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori called the “painful revelations” in the grand jury report “a cause for anger, disillusion and pain among many in our church.”
“These feelings toward the church must be met with more than prayers and promises,” Lori said in a statement. “They must also be met with action by any and all with responsibility for ensuring the safety of children and others in our care.”
Lori said the archdiocese would drop plans to name a new Catholic school in Keeler’s honor.
Keeler, who died in 2017 at age 86, led Baltimore’s Catholics from 1989 until 2007. Before that, he spent much of his ministry in Pennsylvania. He served as bishop of Harrisburg from 1984 until 1989.
The report from Pennsylvania’s Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, released Tuesday, detailed the alleged abuse of more than 1,000 children by hundreds of priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses — and the steps that senior church officials allegedly took to cover it up.
The grand jury said it believes the “real number” of abused children might be “in the thousands,” because some records were lost and some victims were afraid to come forward. The grand jury said more than 300 clergy committed the abuse over a period of decades, beginning in the mid-1950s.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the two-year probe found a systematic coverup by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.
“The coverup was sophisticated,” Shapiro told reporters in Harrisburg. “And all the while, shockingly, church leadership kept records of the abuse and the coverup. These documents, from the dioceses’ own ‘Secret Archives,’ formed the backbone of this investigation.”
Keeler, in his role as bishop of Harrisburg, was accused of failing to act in the case of two priests who abused children.
The grand jury found evidence that Keeler knew of allegations that the Rev. Arthur Long had had sex with underage girls, but allowed him to come to Baltimore in the early 1990s — where he was accused of “inappropriate behavior.”
Keeler was notified of the alleged abuse in 1987, according to the grand jury. He said he preferred to have Long’s religious order, the Jesuits, reassign Long.
“Keeler was informed that Long had admitted to the conduct,” the grand jury wrote. “In spite of such knowledge, Keeler, now in his capacity as Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, returned Long to ministry in a Roman Catholic Archdiocese.”
The grand jury quoted from a 1995 church memo regarding Long in Baltimore in 1991 and 1992: “Shortly after his assignment, reports were again received of inappropriate behavior on his part.”
Long was removed from ministry in 1995.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore said Tuesday it couldn’t immediately provide information on the accusations against Long during his time here.
Archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine said in a statement that church officials were reviewing the grand jury report and their own files “to see what information we might have on Arthur Long, S.J., and any others mentioned in the report that might have had assignments in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.”
In another case, the Rev. Augustine Giella was reported to have abused multiple girls in the same family at one church, including collecting the girls’ urine and menstrual blood and ingesting it, the grand jury reported. The girls — now grown — testified about the alleged abuse in 2016.
The grand jury found that a high school teacher reported the abuse in 1987 and Keeler received an undated memo titled “Report on Gus Giella.”
Giella retired voluntarily in 1988.
“His criminal actions, and the criminal inaction of Keeler, resulted in continued victimization and trauma for the family of girls,” the grand jury wrote.
Both Giella and Long have since died.
Also Tuesday, a former altar boy sued the Diocese of Harrisburg, alleging that Keeler did not protect him from an abusive priest, the York Daily Record reported.
The former altar boy alleges that a now-defrocked priest “leered at, groped and sexually molested” him at a church in Harrisburg. He alleges that the priest was previously reported to Keeler for engaging in inappropriate behavior with boys.
The former altar boy, now an adult living in Maryland, filed the lawsuit as “John Doe.”
The revelations stand in contrast to Keeler’s reputation in Baltimore for transparency on the issue of abuse.
In 2002, Keeler released the names of 57 priests accused of sexual abuse in Baltimore since the 1930s. He also disclosed information about nearly $6 million the archdiocese had paid up to that point in settlements and other expenses related to abuse.
Keeler also publicly apologized to those who had been abused by priests. He said he regretted his decision in 1993 to return the Rev. Maurice Blackwell to his parish after an abuse allegation. Blackwell was shot in 2002 by a man who said he had been molested by Blackwell in 1993.
The archdiocese maintains an online list of accused priests. It has added 14 names since 2002.
Lori said he was “especially saddened and troubled” by Keeler’s “failures.”
Lori recalled Keeler’s 2002 letter on church abuse, which he said was “even more revealing” in light of the grand jury report.
“The simple, painful truth is that the Church did not go far enough to protect children from sexual abuse,” Keeler wrote in 2002. “I humbly ask forgiveness for my mistakes. Please pray for me so that I may better serve.”
Lori said that the grand jury report, on top of allegations of abuse by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, “are rightly a cause for anger, disillusion and pain among many.”
“Try as we have, recent revelations have not only proven that there is more work to be done, but also have resulted in the loss of the precious trust of many of those we are called to serve,” Lori said.
Lori did not announce any new actions in response to the grand jury report, other than dropping Keeler’s name from the new school. The archdiocese is reviewing whether there is anything else named in Keeler’s honor that should be reconsidered, Caine said.
The archdiocese announced plans in April for the new school on the site of the former public Lexington Terrace Elementary School in Poppleton. The school, which is scheduled to open in 2020, is to serve up to 500 students from prekindergarten through eighth grade.
Lori said he has prioritized the “healing of survivors” and strengthening child abuse prevention in his six years in Baltimore, including an independent review board and a mediation program for abuse survivors.
But the archdiocese has sustained ongoing criticism over its handling of abuse allegations. Most recently, it has been criticized for how it investigated allegations of abuse involving the late Rev. A. Joseph Maskell, who was featured in the Netflix series “The Keepers.”
Maskell was accused of sexually abusing children, including at Archbishop Keough High School in Southwest Baltimore. “The Keepers” explored possible connections between abuse at Keough and the unsolved killing of Sister Cathy Cesnik, who taught there.
Maskell was never criminally charged and denied the abuse allegations before he died in 2001. Tens of thousands of people have signed an online petition asking the Archdiocese of Baltimore to release Maskell’s files to the public. The archdiocese has declined to release the files.