More than 400 calls poured into a hotline dedicated to child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church after a Pennsylvania grand jury report last week detailed how 300-plus “predator priests” abused more than 1,000 children over seven decades.
"We've deployed agents from our child predator section and brought them over to answer and respond to these calls that are coming into the hotline," Joe Grace, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, told NPR Monday. The officials intend to investigate each individual claim, according to the New York Post.
The surge is the largest increase in calls the hotline has ever experienced in its two years of existence, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. It was launched in 2016, after the Pennsylvania’s attorney general’s office investigated sexual abuse in one Pennsylvania diocese.
The grand jury report released last week chronicles abuse in six of the Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses. Weighing in at more than 1,300 pages, including exhibits of records from inside the Catholic Church, the report includes dozens of descriptions of both sexual abuse and the hierarchy’s subsequent attempts to cover it up.
“We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated. This report is our only recourse,” the grand jury wrote. “We are going to name their names, and describe what they did — both the sex offenders and those who concealed them. We are going to shine a light on their conduct, because that is what the victims deserve. And we are going to make our recommendations for how the laws should change so that maybe no one will have to conduct another inquiry like this one.”
It’s is the broadest government investigation so far into the Catholic sex abuse scandal in the United States.
Still, it’s unclear how many people who call into the hotline will be able to move forward with any abuse claims. In Pennsylvania, victims of child sex abuse have until their 50th birthday to pursue criminal prosecution, and until their 30th birthday to file a civil lawsuit. While the state legislature has promised to vote on legislation that would revise those statutes of limitation, that legislation does not currently include measures that would allow victims to retroactively sue their attackers.
On Monday, Pope Francis released a letter condemning the actions described in the Pennsylvania report. “With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives,” he wrote. “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
It’s the first time a pope has sought to talk to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics about the church’s sex abuse scandal, according to the Washington Post.
Cover image: St Paul Cathedral, the mother church of the Pittsburgh Diocese on August 15, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Diocese was rocked by revelations of abuse by priests the day before on August 14, 2018. Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images.
This article originally appeared on VICE News US.