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An investigation of abuse by 150 priests of the Archdiocese of Baltimore will soon be released

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Archdiocese of the Baltimore Catholic Church has been the subject of an investigation for sexual abuse. After a four-year grand jury investigation, a judge will soon release details of what children and young adults endured over the past 80 years. Member station WYPR's Scott Maucione has our report. And please note there are details of sexual violence at moments over the next 3 1/2 minutes, and it may be unsuitable for some listeners.

SCOTT MAUCIONE, BYLINE: Jean Hargedon Wehner was just a teenager when Father Joseph Maskell allegedly abused her at a Baltimore high school in the 1960s.

JEAN HARGEDON WEHNER: He would put a gun to my temple. He prostituted me. He raped me.

MAUCIONE: Hargedon Wehner was just one of the 600 alleged victims a Maryland attorney general's report found during an investigation into the Archdiocese of Baltimore over the past 80 years. The report implicates 158 priests. Maskell was one of those priests, and Hargedon Wehner says at one point during her alleged repeated abuses, he emptied the bullets from a gun and held it to her head.

HARGEDON WEHNER: I can still hear the click of the trigger. And he said, if your father ever finds out you've been whoring around, he'll do this, but he'll keep bullets in it.

MAUCIONE: After a four-year investigation, a judge has ordered that a redacted version of a 456-page report on the archdiocese can be released to the public. Brian Frosh, the former Maryland attorney general who oversaw the grand jury investigation, says some people who have been allegedly abused lived with fear, guilt and anxiety.

BRIAN FROSH: What we heard from survivors was that the abuse changed their lives. It marked them for life.

MAUCIONE: Often, it takes years for people to come to terms with their abuse. A study by the medical journal BMC Public Health says the average age of a victim reporting sexual abuse is 52.

FROSH: You have to look back to the culture in the 1960s and '70s, which really didn't encourage these folks to come forward. In fact, many of them, when they did come forward, were smacked back down.

MAUCIONE: The archdiocese declined to be interviewed for this story, but Baltimore Archbishop William Lori acknowledged its role in the sexual abuse of children in a YouTube video.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAM LORI: I extend once again my deepest apologies for the abuse suffered upon them by clergy and others whose sinful and criminal acts so badly damaged them.

MAUCIONE: Maryland's grand jury probe is one of a handful of recent state investigations into the Catholic Church.

DAVID LORENZ: It is a growing body of evidence for a national scourge.

MAUCIONE: David Lorenz, the Maryland director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, says the reports are a way for victims to grieve and to hold the church accountable.

LORENZ: This Catholic Church has a habit of underreporting the number of priests and are not changing the way they do their work.

MAUCIONE: Many states, including Maryland, are using the investigations to rethink laws on how long after abuse victims can file lawsuits against their abusers or the organizations harboring them. However, Jennifer Wortham, chair of the Global Collaborative, a network of child advocacy organizations, says civil lawsuit limitations are only one part of the puzzle. The decentralized nature of the nearly 200 dioceses and archdiocese in the United States makes the reporting and prosecution of child sex abuse complicated.

JENNIFER WORTHAM: We need significant reform, and we can have uniform federal laws to protect children everywhere, because what applies to the Catholic Church also applies to other not-for-profit organizations.

MAUCIONE: Despite the outcome of the legislation, Jean Hargedon Wehner, who was abused by her priest in Baltimore, says the Maryland report will bring a sense of healing.

HARGEDON WEHNER: It's going to validate survivors to their families and to those loved ones that didn't necessarily know how to believe such a horrible thing.

MAUCIONE: Survivors of the abuse are now bracing for when the judge will finally release the report, likely in the coming days or weeks.

For NPR News, I'm Scott Maucione in Baltimore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Maucione