Lehigh Valley

Allentown Diocese says it's made changes in year since grand jury report

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - It was a year ago Wednesday that a grand jury report came out detailing widespread sexual abuse within the Pennsylvania Catholic Church.

The report named more than 300 offenders including dozens in Allentown.

Since then, the city's diocese says it has taken steps to prevent abuse from happening again.

An Allentown Diocese spokesman said the report detailed how the diocese had been making changes for years before it was ever released. Fast forward a year, and they say they have enhanced their efforts.

On this date last year, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced a two-year grand jury investigation found the cover-up of child sex abuse within the Catholic Church went as high as the Vatican.

Shapiro said the report included 37 "predator priests" from the Diocese of Allentown.

"The bishop has said this has been an extremely difficult year," said Matthew Kerr, the diocese's director of communications.

But one the Diocese of Allentown says has also had moments of hope.

Since the report came out, Kerr says the diocese has made changes, including publishing names of accused priests, giving millions to victims and having a zero tolerance for mere accusations.

"We had some education to do about what the church had been doing over the last 15 years prior to the report to prevent this from happening," he said.

The report also accused Bishop Alfred Schlert of moving around predator priests and enabling a cover-up but Schlert denied it.

Kerr says the bishop has also met with parishioners to publicly hold himself accountable and has been cooperating with authorities to eliminate abuse.

"Everybody who has any workings with children: volunteers, teachers, priests, employees of the diocese has background checks, fingerprints taken and has to go to trainings so they know how to spot instances of abuse," Kerr said.

So far two church officials were reported to law enforcement. Kerr says they are being investigated and have been removed from ministry.

Authorities believe there are still more victims out there. The attorney general's office has set up a special hotline to report clergy abuse at 888-538-8541.

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