More than 150 members of the Roman Catholic clergy allegedly committed “horrendous and repeated” sexual abuse of at least 600 children from the 1940s to 2002 in the state of Maryland, the justice system revealed Wednesday, denouncing “collusion” and a cover-up by the hierarchy. of the church.

Priests and staff members of the archdiocese “engaged in horrific and repeated abuse of the most vulnerable children in their community, while the leadership of the archdiocese turned a blind eye,” a report by the district attorney’s office in this northeastern US state emphasizes.

The document concerns the archdiocese of Baltimore, near the capital Washington. It is the fruit of research that began in 2018, as in other states, in the wake of a much-lauded investigation in Pennsylvania.

Named 156 priests and staff members who allegedly systematically sexually abused more than 600 children. But the actual number of victims is “undoubtedly much higher”, the authorities stressed, noting however that a comparatively small proportion of the cases involved rape.

They insist on the “synergy” of the church hierarchy, which “refused to take into account the accusations of sexual violence against children”.

“When it became impossible to deny it, the church was limited to transferring the persons accused, to positions in which they sometimes worked again near children,” the prosecution underlines. The text points out (p. 9 et seq.) that church documents reveal that the archdiocese was “more concerned about avoiding any scandal or negative publicity than about protecting the children.”

The prosecution’s report, although official, does not constitute, nor does it imply, prosecution.

In 2018, a prosecutor’s office investigation in Pennsylvania uncovered cases of child sexual abuse by more than 300 “predatory” priests, with at least 1,000 victims, that were covered up by the church.

That report had shocked the US, before other states discovered, in turn, that there were thousands more victims.

For its investigation, the Maryland attorney general’s office relied on thousands of documents, victim and eyewitness accounts.

The vast majority of people accused in the cases are named. But most of those involved are now dead.

After the report was released, Archbishop William Lowry expressed his “sincere apologies” to the victims, acknowledging in a statement that “satanic acts were committed.” He promised that this “reprehensible period” in his archdiocese’s history “will not be covered up, nor forgotten”, assuring that “radical changes” had been implemented since the late 1990s to “end this scourge”.