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Sex abuse in Baltimore Archdiocese highlights an institutional problem

Experts say an investigation of the Baltimore Archdiocese that found 600 cases of child sex abuse reveals a systemic issue and lack of accountability.
Posted at 2:10 PM, Apr 11, 2023

Back in 2001, the Boston Globe started an investigation that would reveal one of the largest sexual assault scandals by Catholic priests anywhere in the U.S. The investigation into the Boston Archdiocese was the inspiration for the 2015 Oscar-winning film "Spotlight," which was also the name of the Globe's investigative report. 

And now, a new report on the Baltimore Archdiocese by Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown revealed 600 cases of child sex abuse over the past 60 years by 156 current or former Catholic clergy, seminarians, deacons, members of Catholic religious orders, teachers at Catholic schools and other employees.

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori proceeds into the Basilica in Baltimore

Bombshell report details child sex abuse in Baltimore Archdiocese

The Maryland attorney general's report documents more than 600 cases of abuse over 60 years.


Michael Rezendes, now a senior investigative reporter for the Associated Press, was one of the reporters who broke the Boston Archdiocese sex abuse story (he was played by Mark Ruffalo in the film). He told Scripps News that while the findings are always shocking, they're also very consistent — from the number of priests who abuse to the number of victims, when population is accounted for.

"It points to an institutional problem," Rezendes said on Scripps News' "Morning Rush." "This is not a one-off. It's just not something in the water in Boston, in the water in Baltimore. This is a consistent, institutional problem." 

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represented victims in the Boston Archdiocese sex abuse scandal, told Scripps News that only a small percentage of abusers are in jail because the statutes of limitations on criminal cases are outdated and they cannot be made retroactive. 

"Criminal law cannot be made retroactive; it's unconstitutional — unlike civilized, where we can make them retroactive and prospective," Garabedian said. "So very few people have gone to jail because when this was occurring in the 1960s, the '70s, 1940s, 1980s, it wasn't the fashion to put priests in jail for sexually abusing children. It was fashionable to just give a wink and a nod, and get the priest out of that parish into the next parish," Garabedian said.

The attorney was also featured in "Spotlight" and played by Stanley Tucci. 

What was critical in Attorney General Brown's report in Baltimore was that it investigated the cover-ups, since many bishops who have enabled abuse have not been held accountable, said Rezendes. 

Even today's Pope Francis has personally protected abusers, said Garabedian. He said that while the pope has tried to implement programs, they're voluntary, don't have any teeth and aren't meaningful. "The Catholic Church is a big PR machine," Garabedian said.

"I think Pope Francis has said a lot of great things, made a lot of great statements, but he hasn't done anything very much of substance," said Garabedian. "He's dismissed only one of two bishops when he should have dismissed many, many more bishops. He should have programs in place that aren't voluntary, that have to be supervised from an entity outside the church so that those programs remain effective to protect children, and to educate priests, and to help victims try to heal. But there is really none of that." 

Both Garabedian and Rezendes are hoping new statutes of limitations for criminal cases can help prevent future abuse and that investigations brought to light will help increase awareness. 

Garabedian said the public needs to be "aware that they have to watch their children when they're in the care and custody of priests because priests cannot be trusted. The pedophile priest can't be trusted, and the supervising priest covering it up cannot be trusted." 

Donations and attendance are down in Catholic churches across the U.S.

Catholic church in Baltimore, Maryland

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