HARRISBURG — Almost as soon as the phone number flashed onscreen at a news conference about the blistering grand jury report examining Roman Catholic dioceses, calls began pouring into the clergy-abuse hotline.
The Attorney General's Office shuffled workers around, pulling in specially trained agents from its Child Predator unit to help sift through tips about misdeeds by religious officials.
By week's end, they had received more than 300 calls and emails — and the number was still growing. It was the single largest surge in calls since the line was created two years ago, following a similarly scathing report.
"Our agents will call and speak to every person who has called the hotline, hear the facts, and investigate where appropriate," Joe Grace, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, which staffs the line, said Friday.
It's too early to tell exactly what will come of the calls, but the last flurry of tips helped shape the two-year investigation that found rampant child sexual abuse and a deliberate, systemic cover-up in six of the state's Catholic dioceses.
That grand jury report released this week examined seven decades of child sex abuse perpetrated by 301 "predator priests" and efforts by various church officials to keep their conduct hidden from the public. The grand jury wrote that it identified more than 1,000 victims but expects there are many more.
The hotline was established in 2016 by then-Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who announced its creation as she unveiled the results of a similar probe that uncovered rape and cover-ups in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese. The line received more than 100 tips within the first 48 hours. The results of those calls, combined with other evidence, helped guide the investigation that led to the nearly 900-page report that was released Tuesday.
Past investigations have led to lengthy reports aimed at examining how the religious hierarchy responds to allegations of misconduct, but prosecutors have frequently been hampered in their ability to file criminal charges because the statute of limitations had expired.
Current Pennsylvania law allows criminal charges in some cases, depending on how long ago the incident happened, to be filed up until the victim's 50th birthday.
There is one bill in the state legislature that would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations in most future cases — in effect, adopting one of the grand jury's key recommendations. Such efforts have stalled in the past, as they often get tied to controversial measures that would also offer windows for older survivors to sue — a measure championed by victims' advocates but staunchly opposed by the church and insurance industry, who have argued it could deliver a crushing financial blow.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R., Indiana) has promised to bring the bill up for a vote when the House returns this fall, noting that it will likely be revised based on the grand jury's recommendations. It's too early to know exactly what the revised bill will look like.
In the meantime, the Attorney General's Office will continue to field calls and emails relating to clergy abuse. In addition to their normal hours, agents are scheduled to work in the evenings and through this weekend.
"It is our plan to be responsive to every single call," Grace said.
Anyone with information can contact the Clergy Abuse Hotline by calling 888-538-8541 (a toll-free number) or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Liz Navratil: firstname.lastname@example.org, 717-787-2141 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.