Lawyers seek secrecy around release of Md. report on Catholic church sexual abuse

Washington Post

November 22, 2022

By Erin Cox and Michelle Boorstein

Attorneys representing people named in the report asked a judge to keep all proceedings under seal. The church said it will support the report’s release.

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s 456-page report on child sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore faces a legal effort to seal the court proceedings over whether to release it.

But the legal wrangling does not come from the archdiocese, which said in a statement late Tuesday that it will not oppose releasing the details of the four-year investigation, described by Frosh in court filings last week as documenting 600 victims of clergy sexual abuse over 80 years.

“We believe that transparency is necessary to rebuild the trust that has been damaged by evil acts of abuse committed by representatives of the Church and by historic failures of Church leadership to respond adequately to those acts,” the archdiocese statement said, adding that the church described in the report “is not the Archdiocese we are today,” and does not reflect efforts over two decades to protect children.

It continued: “We recognize that efforts on the part of the Archdiocese to challenge errors and mischaracterizations through legal processes will likely be viewed as an attempt to conceal past failures.”

The report relied on confidential grand jury testimony and accused 158 priests of abuse, 43 of whom had not be previously identified in public, according to a motion filed last week to publicly release the detailed findings. Because of the use of grand jury testimony, the attorney general must get court permission to unseal the report.

In the filing, Frosh said the report should be released because it was a “time for reckoning.”

The filing also indicated that the report accuses officials who oversaw the priests of not doing enough to protect victims.

Lawyers representing anonymous clients filed paperwork Monday to keep those proceedings around the release of the report — and potentially the entire report — secret.

The clients “are persons named in the report but not accused of sexual abuse. We will be prepared to identify our clients in the context of a sealed proceeding,” lawyers William J. Murphy and Gregg L. Bernstein wrote in a motion filed Monday in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Murphy and Bernstein asked the court to put the entire case under seal until a judge rules whether the report should be released, and to provide their clients a confidential opportunity to address the court before that decision is reached.

Murphy declined to comment. Bernstein did not return a call seeking comment.

The lawyer who represents the archdiocese, David Kinkopf, was not an author of the motion. Until Tuesday, the church had been unclear on whether it intends to contest the report.

The effort to keep the proceedings secret mirrors legal wrangling that preceded the release of an explosive report on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania in 2018, the only other report like Maryland’s.

The Pennsylvania report also relied on a grand jury, and its eventual release led to the arrest of priests, early retirement for an archbishop and new policies. In Baltimore, the archdiocese added new names to its list of accused priests as a result.

Victims and advocates said the Pennsylvania report’s inclusion of many decades-old cases was essential, since many in church leadership were never held responsible.

The archdiocese has cooperated with Frosh’s office since January 2019, turning over more than 100,000 pages of documents.

The church’s statement said it supported the right of the anonymous clients to have their day in court. “The decision of the Archdiocese not to oppose the release of the report does not mean legal requirements should not be observed, or individuals who may be named in a report should be denied the opportunity to participate,” the statement said.

By Erin Cox – Erin Cox is a politics reporter covering Maryland. She joined The Washington Post in 2018 and has written about Maryland since 2007.  Twitter

By Michelle Boorstein – Michelle Boorstein has been a religion reporter since 2006. She has covered the shifting blend of religion and politics under four U.S. presidents, chronicled the rise of secularism in the United States, and broken financial and sexual scandals from the synagogue down the street to the Mormon Church in Utah to the Vatican.  Twitter