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The Vatican knew of a cover-up involving abusive priests, Pennsylvania AG says

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(CNN) — In the latest scathing allegation against the Catholic church, Pennsylvania’s attorney general said the Vatican knew about a cover-up involving sex abuse allegations against priests.

“I can’t specifically speak to Pope Francis,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro told NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday. But “we have evidence that the Vatican had knowledge of the cover-up.”

The accusation comes two weeks after the release of a grand jury report saying hundreds of “predator priests” had abused children in six Pennsylvania dioceses over the past seven decades.

Shapiro did not specify Tuesday what evidence he has that would suggest the Vatican knew of a cover-up.

“The only documents which are public are in the report itself, including the references to the Vatican’s knowledge,” Shapiro’s spokesman, Joe Grace, told CNN.

“All else remains sealed through the grand jury process.”

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the Vatican would need to learn more details about the evidence before commenting.

Shapiro said the grand jury’s lengthy investigation into abuse by priests also revealed a widespread cover-up.

The 23 grand jurors met for two years and “unearthed over 301 predator priests (and) more than a thousand victims — children in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro told “Today.”

“They found that there was not only widespread sexual abuse, rape of children, but they found that there was a systematic cover-up that went all the way to the Vatican.”

In the two weeks since the grand jury’s report was released, Shapiro said Pennsylvania’s clergy abuse hotline has received more than 730 calls.

It’s not clear how many of those cases — if any — could still be prosecuted within the statute of limitations.

But on the civil side, sex abuse cases have already cost the Catholic church and its insurance companies billions of dollars.

The Vatican has taken steps to root out some offending clergy members. According to the grand jury report, in 2014, the Vatican said it had defrocked about 850 priests who raped or molested children and sanctioned 2,500 worldwide during the previous decade.

The Pennsylvania grand jury report has put dioceses across the country on alert. Several other states have launched their own investigations into Catholic clergy.

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