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‘Predator’ priests abused more than 1,000 children in Pennsylvania

“PREDATOR” priests weaponised victims’ faith to groom, abuse and rape more than a thousand children over decades in the US state of Pennsylvania, a grand jury investigation has found.

An 884-page report detailed horrors including a priest who tied up a victim with rope in the “praying position” and then sexually assaulted him with a seven-inch crucifix.

At one rectory, four priests made a boy strip “and pose as Jesus on the cross while they took photos.” Altar boys were told to serve naked beneath their cassocks as “God did not want any man-made clothes during Mass,” while a seven-year-old gang-rape victim who went to a priest for help was informed he needed to provide sex in order to get to heaven and was then abused for three years before the abusive priest was transferred to another parish.

The most extensive investigation into abuse by Catholic clergy in US history looked into six of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses, an area inhabited by 1.7 million Catholics, with the other two excluded because they have already been the subject of grand jury investigations which found widespread abuse in both.

Attorney-general Josh Shapiro said “predators in every diocese weaponised the Catholic faith and used it as a tool of their abuse.”

Threats of eternal damnation were found to be “common” if children did not co-operate and priests often warned victims that their word would not be believed over a “man of God’s” if they reported what had happened.

Even where bishops took action against priests a cloak of silence was cast over the crimes, investigators found. One bishop who informed the Vatican of a priest who “invoked the name of God to justify his actions against his victims” secured the abuser’s removal in 2006, but parishioners were kept in the dark as to why he had left.

Cases investigated stretched back to the 1940s and involved over 300 priests, more than 100 of whom are now dead. Several have been prosecuted in the past, but just two face prosecution for crimes uncovered in the investigation.

Church leaders apologised for the abuse and have published a list of priests accused of sexual misconduct. They argue that reforms introduced in 2002 to protect children will have clamped down on the behaviour since.

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