How Pennsylvania's Attorney General Is Investigating Reports Of Sex Abuse By Priests
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It was Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro who announced the sweeping grand jury report on child abuse by priests in that state. We want to get his reaction to all of this now. Welcome to the program.
JOSH SHAPIRO: Good to be back with you.
CORNISH: Now, I understand you actually reached out to the Vatican earlier this summer to give the pope a heads up about this report. And you didn't hear back at that time. What do you make of the remarks you're hearing now?
SHAPIRO: Well, I appreciate the validation of our work in Pennsylvania and the expression of remorse on behalf of Pope Francis. What I hope now is that under the Holy Father's leadership, the church will now embrace and support the grand jury's recommendations.
CORNISH: So what would that look like to your mind?
SHAPIRO: Well, the grand jurors were very specific. They want to eliminate the criminal statute of limitations entirely so that predator priests and those who cover it up aren't out of reach of the law. They want to create a two-year civil window so older victims can seek damages. They want to clarify penalties for continuing to fail to report child abuse. And they want to make it clear that the confidentiality agreements so often used by the Catholic Church do not cover communications with law enforcement. So - look; it's my job as the top prosecutor in Pennsylvania, as the one who spearheaded this process to ensure that the grand jury report is taken seriously. The pope did that...
CORNISH: But some of those things - go ahead.
SHAPIRO: The pope did that today in validating the work of the grand jurors. Now the next step is embracing and supporting these recommendations.
CORNISH: But there are some states that have on the books the laws you're talking about - certainly about expanding the statute of limitations. Pennsylvania hasn't taken that next step. Do you think this will push them to do so?
SHAPIRO: I can tell you that in Pennsylvania, we need real reform. The Catholic Church took advantage of the weak laws in Pennsylvania as they shuttled priests around and as they shielded them from law enforcement to make sure that they were out of the reach of the law. They knew exactly what they were...
CORNISH: But are you hearing from legislators now who are saying, OK, we get it; now we want to push this?
SHAPIRO: I think lawmakers in Pennsylvania have been woken up by the good work of the grand jury. I don't know how any lawmaker in Pennsylvania at this point could not support these reforms.
CORNISH: How many other states have contacted you saying that they intend to or are thinking about convening grand juries similar to this one?
SHAPIRO: I've had many private conversations over the last 48 hours with other state attorneys general and prosecutors in other states who have expressed interest in doing the kind of work we did in Pennsylvania.
CORNISH: That's private. It sounds like you're not going to tell us which states are interested.
SHAPIRO: I am not.
CORNISH: I want to ask you about a bishop in particular. You mentioned Cardinal Donald Wuerl. He currently leads the Washington Archdiocese. The grand jury report talked about him protecting abusive priests while he was Pittsburgh's bishop from 1988 to 2006. He's denied this, and he says he believes the report, quote, "confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse." What's your reaction to that?
SHAPIRO: I'll say a couple of things. First off, anyone can read the report. It's available on my website, attorneygeneral.gov. When you read the section on Pittsburgh and you read the nearly 200 times Donald Wuerl was mentioned in the report, you will see that his conduct was absolutely abhorrent. As for what he has said since the report has come out, let me be very clear. Cardinal Wuerl is not being truthful and forthright. Many of his statements in response to the grand jury report are directly contradicted by the church's own documents and records from their own secret archives.
CORNISH: Your office also prosecuted Jerry Sandusky in 2012 when he was accused of sexually abusing young boys through his role as a football coach at Penn State. What have you learned about large institutions - right? - that essentially not only fail to prevent child abuse but actually protect abusers?
SHAPIRO: This is really much broader than any one institution, than just the church. The time for any institution - a university, as you alluded to, government, news and entertainment industries and of course the church - to protect their interests over sexual abuse victims is absolutely over.
You know, in these past 20 months, my office has prosecuted a university president at Penn State for endangering children by failing to report a child predator. We've arrested a police chief for child sexual abuse. We've charged county prison guards with sexual abuse of women inmates. And the list goes on and on. If you commit sexual abuse in Pennsylvania, if you cover it up to protect your institution, we'll investigate and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law without fear or favor.
CORNISH: That's Attorney General Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.