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The report was alternatively described as 884 or 1,356 pages long—more on that strange discrepancy later.As a lifelong perpetrator of journalism I know about deadlines and how dependent a reporter can be on a summary, an introduction, or a spokesperson like the attorney general of Pennsylvania.That script was engraved in the public mind by the .It is the script that animates the Pennsylvania grand-jury report.You turn to soundbites from church officials or victims’ advocates that echo established scripts of what a story is about.In this case it is a script about bishops, bishops who were fully aware of the dangers that predatory priests posed to children and adolescents but who nonetheless “shuttled” or “shuffled” them from parish to parish to shield the reputation of the church and the clergy.August 15 is the Feast of the Assumption, a “holy day of obligation,” when Catholics are expected to attend Mass.This year millions of Catholics went to church sick at heart. The day before, the attorney general of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had released a grand-jury report declaring that hundreds of Catholic priests had sexually abused minors.
And lurking at a much deeper level are years of often confusing but always mortifying reports of sexual abuse by priests, inevitably reinforcing whatever doubts and disappointments Catholics have experienced.I realize that for many people, especially many angry and dismayed Catholics, such an inquiry flies in the face of almost overpowering headwinds.To question let alone challenge the report is unthinkable.The grand jury’s conclusions were summarized in reports that landed on the front pages of the and nightly news broadcasts.No Catholics serious about their faith, indeed no one of any sensitivity, could have read about the report without feeling horror and shame. It was bad enough to read graphic accounts of anal and oral rape, sometimes combined with sacrilegious perversities; it was doubly appalling to be told that church leaders had systematically covered up these crimes and allowed abusers to go unchecked.