HARRISBURG — Vatican officials knew of efforts to cover up sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania, Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Tuesday morning during appearances on two national news shows.
"We have evidence that the Vatican had knowledge of the cover-up," Shapiro said on NBC's Today. He said later in the interview that he "can't speak specifically to Pope Francis" knowing.
Shapiro reiterated those comments during a later interview with the Inquirer and Daily News. Shapiro said he was referring to portions of the grand jury report where diocesan officials contacted the Vatican about troublesome priests, often in an effort to get them removed from ministry.
There are a couple of dozen references to the Vatican in the grand jury report, along with the attached responses from people criticized in the document.
Many of those mentions concerned requests from Pennsylvania church officials to the Vatican that an abusive priest be removed from the priesthood following an allegation of sexual abuse or rape. Procedurally, the pope has to decide to remove a priest.
The report notes that the grand jury reviewed copies of some of those requests in the course of its two-year investigation. "Often called 'The Acts' of the subject priest, the summaries were often the most detailed documents within diocesan records and contained decades of long-held secrets only disclosed in an effort finally to remove an offending priest from the priesthood," according to the report.
It was not clear how much detail those summaries included about the six dioceses' prior responses to the allegations.
Shapiro would not elaborate beyond the report, saying grand jury secrecy prevented him from providing more detail about the evidence his office has involving those communications between the dioceses and the Vatican.
Multiple church leaders in their own responses to the report denied a cover-up. Some noted that the process for defrocking a priest is lengthy and that in some instances, bishops suspended priests from active ministry while the requests were pending. Among those who have criticized the report's fairness is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, currently archbishop of Washington and previously bishop of Pittsburgh.
Shapiro, during a separate interview on CBS This Morning, said, "I believe that statements made by bishops in Pennsylvania, by Cardinal Wuerl specifically, to deny this does further the cover-up. It covers up the cover-up."
The remarks came days after a former Vatican ambassador to the United States asserted that Francis knew of abuse accusations against former Washington Archbishop Cardinal Theodore McCarrick long before his resignation this summer.
A redacted version of the grand jury report was released to the public this month. The grand jury found that more than 1,000 children were raped or otherwise sexually abused by 301 "predator priests" over 70 years. The report covered six of the state's eight Roman Catholic dioceses and called for changes to state law.
Staff writer Angela Couloumbis contributed to this article.