Hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania have molested more than 1,000 children and senior church officials, including the now archbishop of Washington, D.C., systematically covered up the abuse.

A grand jury report released Tuesday reveals the horrific predatory behavior which included making young boys rinse their mouths with holy water to ‘purify’ them after they were forced to give oral sex to clergymen and the abuse of one boy who was made to pose naked as Jesus while other priests took pornographic pictures.

The priests would mark out which boys had been groomed for abuse by giving them gold crosses to wear as necklaces.

The 800-page report refers to more than 300 priests in six diocese where children were raped, plied with alcohol, or forced to perform for clergymen to produce pornographic material since the mid-1950s.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the former longtime bishop of Pittsburgh who now leads the Washington archdiocese, was among the high-ranking clergy who turned a blind eye to the abuse.

The ‘real number’ of abused children might be in the thousands since some secret church records were lost, and victims were afraid to come forward, the grand jury said.

The 886-page report contains hundreds of examples of horrifying abuse. All were disturbing but some were particularly troubling.  They include;

  • A priest who forced a boy to wash his mouth out with holy water after making him perform oral sex 
  • A priest who raped a seven-year-old girl while visiting her in hospital after she’d had her tonsils removed 
  • A ring of pedophiles who whipped little boys and allowed other men to rape them for a fee 
  • Another priest, grooming his middle school students for oral sex, taught them how Mary had to ‘bite off the cord’ and ‘lick’ Jesus clean after he was born 
  • Priests who had children were gold crosses to mark which of them had been abused
  • A priest who went to work at Walt Disney World, with a glowing recommendation letter from the church, after quitting over complaints about him abusing children 

Others, when questioned over their behavior, said ‘anything is possible’.

One, who targeted young boys, denied molesting two little girls by telling the church: ‘They don’t have a penis.’

Rev David Poulson is one of two priests charged over the report

Rev. John Sweeney (pictured in July 2017) after admitting forcing a boy to perform oral sex on him in 1992

Most of the victims are boys but some girls are also included. According to the report, church leaders covered the abusive acts up by claiming priests or clergymen were playing around or ‘wrestling’ with the children.

‘Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing. They hid it all,’ Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference in Harrisburg.

Shapiro said that one priest had molested five sisters in one family.

One of the sisters, 37-year-old Carolyn Fortney, said: ‘It’s very lonely.

‘Especially when it’s your word against God’s.’

The diocese settled with the family after requiring a confidentiality agreement, he said.

The attorney general said that Catholic bishops covered up child sexual abuse by priests and reassigned them repeatedly to different parishes.

‘They allowed priests to remain active for as long as 40 years,’ he said.

Describing the ‘weaponization of faith’ to silence victims, Shapiro cited several examples including one priest who allegedly told children ‘how Mary had to lick Jesus clean after he was born’ to groom them for oral sex.

‘Children were taught that this abuse was not only normal but that it was holy,’ Shapiro said.

Reverend Donald J. Cooper

Father Jerome Kucan

Rev Richard D. Lynch died in April 2000

Reverend John P. Schanz

One cleric, the Reverend David A. Soderlund, was alleged to have had sex with at least three young boys beginning in the early 1980s.

The Allentown Diocese, where he ministered, knew of the allegations, but did not report them to authorities. 

One priest allegedly told children ‘how Mary had to lick Jesus clean after he was born’ to groom them for oral sex. Children were taught that this abuse was not only normal but that it was holy
 Attorney General Josh Shapiro

‘[H]e was an altar boy (7th grade), and David, had a trailer which he kept at the Appalachian Trail Sites in Shartlesville, brought him there almost weekly, over a period of about 5 years, where they engaged in sexual acts,’ one of Soderlund’s alleged victims told church officials in 1997.

‘The victim said, he was not a willing participant, but David threatened to harm or kill him.

‘David also took pictures of the victim engaged in sexual acts and threatened to use them to embarrass him.’

Another young girl was raped by a number of priests who later told her that this was God’s way of showing love.

A priest in Scranton sexually assaulted an underage girl, impregnated her in the process, and then arranged for her to have an abortion, the grand jury report states.

Victim: Former priest James Faluszczak, who says he was molested by a priest as a teenager, reacts as Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference

Victim's mother: Judy Deaven, who says her son was a victim of sexual abuse by a priest as a boy, reacts as Shapiro speaks during a news conference Tuesday

Shapiro hold hands with Judy Deaven during his news conference in Harrisburg on Tuesday

Shapiro mentioned the story of Father Edward Graff.

During his 35-year stint at the Allentown Diocese, Graff raped ‘scores’ of young boys, according to the attorney general.

Accused: Priest Jan Olowin has now retired. He was accused of sexually accosting three different boys in the 1990s

One of his victims, Joey, was so violently raped when he was 7 years old that he suffered injuries to his spine.

Joey became addicted to pain medication, and eventually overdosed and died.

Before his death, Joey wrote a letter to the Allentown Diocese.

In the letter, Joey said Graff killed his potential and the man he could have become.

‘The abuse did happen. The grand jurors believed Joey,’ Shapiro said to Joey’s mother, who was sitting on the stage Tuesday.

But because so many of the priests are now dead or their alleged crimes falls outside the statute of limitations, only two have been charged as a result of the investigation.

‘Who would believe me’: Victims tell of abuse they suffered at the hands of Pennsylvania priests

‘I had my puberty stolen from me, my life stolen’

Robert Mizic

The now 47-year-old, was an alter boy and says he was just 12-years-old when he was abused by a priest. 

‘It’s a horrible way of living. I had my puberty stolen from me, my life stolen,’ he said to CBS Pittsburgh.

‘That’s the true travesty to know that they [the Diocese] knew, and they knew and moved these priests to endanger other children is deplorable.’

Robert Mizic was an alter boy at just 12, when he says he was sexually abused by a priest

‘It’s your word against God’s’: Heartache of five sisters abused by the same priest who died as he awaited trial

Carolyn Fortney

Now 37-years-old was abused by Father Augustine Giella, shortly after she was 18-months old in 1982. He also molested her four other sisters.

‘The word God just makes me think of him, and I just…’ Carolyn Fortney trails off. ‘I was in my diaper and ran right to him,’ she said.  

Carolyn Fortney met Father Augustine Giella when she was just 10-months-old, she says the sexual abuse began almost immediately (undated childhood photo, left)

‘The real scandal is the abuse was aided and abetted by the hierarchy that protected reputation & money over children’ 

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks

Now 47-years-old, he says the trauma of being raped in the shower at 13-years-old by the late Rev. Edward Graff of Holy Guardian Angels in Reading still strongly haunts him.

Rozzi, who has become an advocate for sexual abuse victims, said during a press conference on Monday ahead of the release of the report, ‘I couldn’t be more proud of all the victims. Really, it’s the collective voice of all these victims that have finally forced the church into a corner.’

State Rep. Mark Rozzi says he was raped in the shower at 13 by late Rev. Edward Graff

‘This is the murder of a soul:’ former priest who was abused for years as a teen

Former priest James Faluszczak

Now 48-years-old says Rev. Monsignor Daniel J. Martin took the hardships his family was going through in the 1980s and used it against him. He says he was abused from the time he was 16 till the time he was 19 .

Former priest James Faluszczak told the Grand Jury he was molested from aged 16 to 19

He was so violently raped at just seven-years-old he suffered an injury to his spline- now he’s dead from an overdose 

Joseph Behe 

Dead at 45 from an opioid overdoe. He wrote a letter to the Allentown Diocese before his death, saying Father Edward Graff had killed his potential and the man he could have become.

‘The abuse did happen. The grand jurors believed Joey,’ State Attorney General Josh Shapiro said to Joey’s mother, who was sitting on the stage Tuesday.

Joseph Behe, dead at 45 after an opioid overdose, was raped so violently at seven-years-old he suffered an injury to his spine 

‘Who would have believed me’ oldest living accuser says of abuse he suffered in 1947

Robert Corby

The now 83 year-old said the abuse he suffered left him unable to be affectionate with his family and his wife and children have suffered because of it.

‘My children I couldn’t hold or hug,’ he said, adding that his alleged abuser ‘took that away from me,’ he said during his emotional testimony Tuesday.

‘It has an effect on you for the rest of your life. It doesn’t ever go away’

Shaun Doherty

The now 48-year-old says he was molested by Priest George Koharchik in 1980. 

It would happen with ‘Any activity that required a shower afterward,’ Dougherty told PennLive. ‘He bathed me. He cleaned my entire body.’

What began as tickling led to fondling and by the time Dougherty was 13 to digital penetration, he said.

They are John Thomas Sweeney who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy in July. In 1992, he made the fourth grader perform oral sex on him.  

The other priest is David Poulson. He was charged in May with indecently assaulting two boys over the course of several years.

One was eight and the other was 15 when he allegedly began abusing them.

As part of the investigation, records from the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton were analyzed.

Combined, the dioceses serviced more than half of Pennsylvania’s 3.2million Catholic residents

Shapiro said the two-year probe found a systematic cover-up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.

PEDOPHILE PRIESTS WHO WERE SHIELDED BY THE CHURCH

Monsignor Thomas J. Benestad

Monsignor Thomas J. Benestad is one of the 300 clergymen named in the grand jury report.

In 2011, the Allentown Diocese was approached by a man who alleged that Benestad sexually abused him from 1981 to 1983.

The victim was nine years old when the alleged abuse began.

The allegation was reported to the Northampton County District Attorney’s Office, which investigated the matter and found that the boy’s accusations were credible.

The victim told authorities that when he was a boy enrolled in Catholic school, he was taken out of class by a nun and sent to Benestad’s office because he had worn shorts to Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) study.

Since wearing shorts were ‘sinful,’ the boy was told to get on his knees and start praying once inside Benestad’s office.

Benestad then unzipped his pants and told the boy to give him oral sex, the grand jury report alleges.

The boy did so. Afterward, Benestad squirted holy water into the boy’s mouth and told him it was to ‘purify’ him.

No charges were ever brought because the alleged crimes took place beyond the statute of limitations.

Other alleged victims also complained about Benestad, who was allowed to continue to minister.

Benestad, who has denied all of the allegations, is now retired in Boca Raton, Florida.

Reverend Thomas J. Bender

In 1972, the Allentown Diocese received a report from a Deacon who also happened to be a Pennsylvania State Trooper.

The Deacon reported that another Trooper found Bender in a car with a male student from Nativity High School in Pottsville, where the clergyman was assigned.

Both Bender and the boy had their pants off, according to the Deacon.

Thomas J. Welsh, who was the Bishop of the Diocese, received the report. It stated that the Trooper gave Bender a ‘lecture and sent him on his way.’

When Bender was confronted about the incident, he claimed this was the first time this had happened. He was allowed to continue as a priest.

In 1984, a young male came forward and told church officials that three years earlier, when he was in seventh grade, Bender sexually abused him.

This abuse entailed oral and anal sex while Bender and the boy were in bed together.

Church officials sent Bender to psychotherapy, but still allowed him to continue to minister.

In 1986, the victim overdosed on drugs and was admitted to a psychiatric institute.

The victim and his family reported Bender to the authorities and filed a lawsuit against the church.

The next year, Bender was placed on a leave of absence. In 1988, he was arrested and convicted.

Bender was given a light sentence of probation. He was kept on a leave of absence until 2002, when he successfully applied for retirement benefits, including health insurance, life insurance, a living allowance, retreat fees, and car insurance.

In 2004, the Diocese received more reports of alleged abuse by Bender. Those allegations, some stemming from as far back as 1966, were reported to the authorities in Pennsylvania.

In 2006, Bender was arrested by an undercover police officer in New York State who posed as a ’14-year-old boy’ whom the former cleric tried to lure to a hotel room on Long Island.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and lifetime probation. Bender is a registered sex offender in the State of New York.

Father Ronald Yarrosh

In 2004, Father Ronald Yarrosh was found to be in possession of ‘a tremendous amount’ of child pornography.

A week later, Yarrosh was removed from his priestly ministry and ordered to undergo evaluation and treatment.

In May of that year, Pennsylvania State Police charged Yarrosh with 110 counts of sexual abuse of children.

Yarrosh was found to have had hundreds of child pornography photos, books, magazines, video, and DVDs in his possession, according to the grand jury report.

During a subsequent investigation, Yarrosh was also found to have embezzled $23,000 from his parish.

A year after his arrest, he pleaded guilty to theft and possession of child pornography.

He struck a plea bargain and agreed to serve between three and 23 months in prison.

Yarrosh ended up serving just three months. Upon his release, he registered with Pennsylvania State Police as a sex offender.

After his release from prison, Yarrosh was allowed to continue as a priest.

The Diocese granted him residence at St. Francis Villa in Orwigsburg – even though church officials considered him ‘a moderate to high risk to again use pornography and/or consort with prostitutes.’

In November 2006, authorities learned Yarrosh took trips to New York City with a seven-year-old child.

Yarrosh was also found to be in possession of child pornography – a violation of his court-ordered supervision.

Pennsylvania authorities sentenced Yarrosh to four-to-10 years behind bars.

In June 2007, the Diocese removed Yarrosh from the priesthood.  

Reverend Joseph Zmijewski

In October 2004, the Allentown Diocese received a complaint from an adult woman who alleged that one of its priests sexually abused her when she was a child.

The victim told the Diocese that she was a member of the St. Mary Greek church in Reading.

She also attended Catholic school at St. Peter.

When she was in ninth grade in 1950, she met Father Joseph Zmijewski.

She said she frequently sought Zmijewski’s advice as she was having difficult meeting new friends and being acclimated to a new school.

Zmijewski came recommended by another priest because he was a registered psychologist.

The woman said that Zmijewski recommended that she come to his home in order to be treated with hypnosis.

She agreed to the hypnosis sessions.

The first three sessions did not go well and she was becoming frustrated.

During the fourth session, Zmijewski tried to hypnotize her once more. He told her to undress until she was naked, and she complied.

He then left the room while she was naked and did not return for some time.

After Zmijewski came back into the room, he instructed her to get dressed. She never returned for another session.

The woman kept the story to herself until well into adulthood.

Zmijewski died in 1968.

The Allentown Diocese referred the woman to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which served the area at the time since there was no Allentown Diocese as of yet.  

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