June 21, 2018
By Ed Palattella
The court is to hear arguments on challenges to a grand jury’s findings on child sexual abuse in six Roman Catholic dioceses statewide.
The public might have to wait longer to read a grand jury report on child sexual abuse in the Catholic Diocese of Erie and five other Roman Catholic dioceses statewide.
In a one-page order issued on Wednesday, the state Supreme Court said it is halting the unsealing and release of the report pending a review of unspecified challenges to its release.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office is running the investigation, said in late May that he planned to release the report by the end of June.
The Supreme Court’s order, issued on Wednesday, would appear to complicate those plans, though details of what might happen next are sparse because grand jury proceedings are secret. The Supreme Court order is directed to the supervising judge of the grand jury, Norman Krumenacker III, of Cambria County, and Shapiro’s office.
The order reads: “And now, this 20th day of June 2018, the Applications for Stay are granted. The Honorable Norman A. Krumenacker, III, and the Office of the Attorney General are enjoined from releasing Report No. 1 of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury pending further order of this Court. The instant order is unsealed. All other materials at these docket numbers are not presently publicly available.”
The stays that are the subject of the Supreme Court order are believed to have been filed by people named in the report but who are not officials of the six dioceses.
All of the dioceses have said they do not oppose the release of the report, with Erie Catholic Bishop Lawrence Persico the first to state he wanted an unrestricted release. Persico, the bishop of the 13-county Erie diocese since October 2012, also was the only one of the six bishops to testify in person before the grand jury rather than submit a written statement. Persico was not under subpoena.
The other dioceses under investigation are those for Allentown, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton.
In a statement, Shapiro said his office would continue to push for the release of the report, which is 884 pages and is expected to be one of the most sweeping studies of its kind issued in the United States.
“Just moments ago, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania accepted legal challenges to the issuing of a grand jury report detailing widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. In an unsealed order, the Supreme Court has issued a stay of proceedings to review and decide those challenges,” Shapiro said.
“My legal team and I will continue fighting tirelessly to make sure the victims of this abuse are able to tell their stories and the findings of this investigation are made public to the people of Pennsylvania.”
Persico in a statement confirmed that the Erie diocese did not ask for a stay.
“We anxiously await the Supreme Court’s decision on this matter, and support the release of the report which will give victims a voice,” Persico said. “Until the report is released, we will continue our efforts to identify abusers and provide counseling and assistance to victims.”
Under the direction of the attorney general’s office, the grand jury investigated the dioceses for two years and ended its term on April 30. Its report was done in May, and the dioceses on May 25 received copies of the report under seal to prepare written responses to it. Krumenacker was to decide whether to attach those responses to the final report before the public release.
On June 5, Krumenacker issued a rare public opinion in the case, in which he said that he denied legal challenges that unnamed individuals had filed with him objecting to the release of the report. Those individuals are believed to have appealed Krumenacker’s ruling — which he said dealt with unprecedented legal issues in Pennsylvania — directly to the state Supreme Court.
The requests that Krumenacker denied came from some individuals who are named but not indicted in the grand jury’s report. They asked that Krumenacker allow them to present evidence and testimony to the grand jury to refute the evidence that the attorney general’s office presented “that resulted in the language critical of them contained in the report.”
Krumenacker found that such hearings are not allowed under that state’s grand jury law and that, if the hearings occurred, they would “disrupt the functions of the grand jury.”
The grand jury law requires that those named but not charged in the grand jury’s report be notified and allowed to respond in writing, but the law does not allow the type of hearing that the individuals wanted, Krumenacker wrote. Commenting on the reason the grand jury was empaneled, Krumenacker wrote, “The Commonwealth’s interest in protecting children from sexual predators and persons or institutions that enable them to continue their abuse is of the highest order.”
Krumenacker also provided the most details to date about what the report includes. He wrote that the investigation relates “to allegations of child sexual abuse, failure to make a mandatory report, acts endangering the welfare of children, and obstruction of justice by individuals associated with the Roman Catholic Church, local public officials and community leaders.”
The grand jury document is an investigative report rather than a presentment. In Pennsylvania, a grand jury recommends the filing of criminal charges through a presentment.
However, the grand jury’s work has yielded criminal charges in one case — that of the Rev. David L. Poulson, 65, a priest in the Catholic Diocese of Erie charged May 8 with molesting two boys between 2002 and 2012 when the boys were 8 to 18. The investigating grand jury heard evidence about Poulson and issued a presentment.
Poulson waived his right to a preliminary hearing on May 31 before a district judge in Jefferson County. Persico forced Poulson to resign in February and he is no longer in active ministry. Poulson is free after he posted $30,000 bail, or 10 percent of the full amount of $300,000.
Erie Catholic Bishop Lawrence Persico issued the following statement on Wednesday’s state Supreme Court order halting the release of the grand jury report on child sexual abuse:
“Bishop Lawrence Persico and the Diocese of Erie did not seek a stay of the publication of the grand jury report, and thus cannot comment on the merits of the legal arguments of others. As demonstrated from the recent revisions to our ‘Policy for the Protection of Children,’ we are committed to transparency.
“We anxiously await the Supreme Court’s decision on this matter, and support the release of the report which will give victims a voice. Until the report is released, we will continue our efforts to identify abusers and provide counseling and assistance to victims.”
Note: This is an Abuse Tracker excerpt. Click the title to view the full text of the original article. If the original article is no longer available, see our News Archive.