Grand Jury Report on Child Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania Catholic Churches Ought to Be Released without Redactions
September 4, 2018
|Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, is pictured here speaking at a news conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, on Aug. 14, 2018. Shapiro has called the release of the full and unredacted grand jury report into child sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses.|
The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last week that the grand jurors who investigated child sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses want to see their full and unredacted report released to the public. The 20 grand jury members unanimously lodged “their objections to any attempts to ‘censor, alter, redact or amend’ the document,” those newspapers reported. Their two-year investigation revealed that 301 “predator priests” had sexually abused more than 1,000 children over seven decades in the dioceses of Harrisburg (which includes the parishes in Lancaster County), Greensburg, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton and Erie.
This plea from the grand jurors who spent two harrowing years investigating child sexual abuse in six of eight Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses should be heeded.
In their court filing, as explained by the Inquirer and Post-Gazette, the jurors said they “examined an ‘overwhelming amount of evidence’ of abuse, including internal church documents that had been kept secret. They wrote that they solicited and received written or in-person testimony from bishops from all of the six dioceses. And, they said, they heard from victims — most of whom testified they had notified their pastors, bishops or dioceses about the abuse.”
Wrote the grand jury: “We listened as they poured out their hearts telling of the agony and torment they endured since being victimized. They had waited so long to be heard; they deserve to be heard and validated.”
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro also argues that the full, unredacted report should be made public. We think it should be, too.
There has been far too much secrecy already, as the grand jury report made plain.
We thank the grand jurors first of all for dedicating so much time to what must have been an excruciating assignment. Listening to so much anguish — so much “agony and torment” — had to be life-altering. How could it not?
And it must have been infuriating as the details of the cover-up perpetrated by bishops and other church officials — and some lay people — came to light. It certainly was infuriating to read the grand jury report. How could so many people of God have acted so callously to protect the church over children?
Shapiro said again last week that there is evidence that the Vatican — the highest echelon of the Catholic Church — was aware of the cover-up of child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania, and that documents in the dioceses’ secret archives were shared with Vatican officials. (A simple question: If the Catholic Church had nothing to hide about its handling of abusive priests, why did the dioceses store relevant documents in secret archives to which only bishops had the keys?)
It’s not hard to believe that the Vatican knew of the cover-up, given the hierarchical nature of the Catholic Church, and the appalling track record of Vatican officials on these issues. Shielding abusive priests from civil and criminal prosecution has been the modus operandi of the church at every level. This became clear in the early 2000s when, after his role in covering up priestly abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston was revealed by the Boston Globe, Cardinal Bernard Law resigned and then was given a comfortable position in Rome. In 2017, he was given a full cardinal’s funeral; Pope Francis gave the final blessing.
It would send a much-needed signal that this time is different — this time, the church truly is on the side of victims — if Vatican officials were to acknowledge what they knew about Pennsylvania’s abusive priests, and what input they had in handling their cases.
Likewise, we’d like to see the unredacted grand jury report be released, the dozens of blacked-out pages replaced with text. As Shapiro has said, “Every redaction represents a silenced victim.”
As the Inquirer and Post-Gazette reported last week, the state Supreme Court is slated to weigh arguments this month by “unnamed clergy members who have petitioned the high court to keep their names from becoming public, contending the investigation stripped them of their due process rights and that the report contains inaccuracies or unfairly smeared their reputations. Among other things, some petitioners have argued they deserved to cross-examine grand jury witnesses, a process that’s not currently allowed.”
In their filing, those newspapers reported, the grand jurors called this position “offensive.” They maintained: “The Roman Catholic church had their chance and chose not to properly investigate the abuse claims at the time the allegations were made.”
It’s hard to argue with this.
We know — believe us, we know — that the grand jury report continues to be a source of great pain for members of the Catholic Church. But the sorrow of the faithful — or that of the many good priests leading parishes — pales when compared to that of the abuse victims who suffered, unacknowledged, for far too long. For their sake, silence and secrecy must no longer be the church’s operating principles.
As of last Wednesday, the attorney general’s clergy abuse hotline had received more than 820 phone calls. We encourage anyone with knowledge of an abusive priest or complicit church official to call that hotline.