Maryland attorney general’s investigation of child sexual abuse in Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore nears completion

Baltimore Sun [Baltimore MD]

November 14, 2022

By Lee O. Sanderlin and Jonathan M. Pitts

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office’s four-year investigation into the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s history of child sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests is almost finished.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Brian Frosh told The Baltimore Sun the investigation is “nearing completion,” but declined to share details. A criminal investigator for the office, former FBI agent Richard Wolf, has contacted many abuse survivors in recent weeks to tell them the report is close to done.

In 2018, the office issued a grand jury subpoena to the archdiocese for records, and Archbishop William E. Lori told clergy the state was investigating. Ultimately, the archdiocese turned over more than 100,000 pages of documents to Wolf and Special Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Embry.

The attorney general’s report, when finalized, is expected to detail child sexual abuse going back more than 80 years.

It’s unclear whether the investigation will lead to criminal charges. There is no statute of limitations on felony crimes in Maryland, but for someone to be charged in an abuse case, what’s alleged to have happened must have been classified a crime at the time it was committed.

A spokesperson for the archdiocese issued a written statement to The Sun apologizing for past abuse.

“The Archdiocese recognizes that the release of a report on child sexual abuse over many decades would undoubtedly be a source of renewed pain for survivors of abuse and their loved ones, as well as for the faithful of the Archdiocese,” church spokesperson Christian Kendzierski wrote.

“We again offer our profound apologies to all who were harmed by a minister of the church and assure them of our heartfelt prayers for their continued healing. The Archdiocese remains committed to pastoral outreach to those who have been harmed as well as to protect children in the present and future.”

Because many of the records used in the investigation were obtained by way of the grand jury subpoena, the finished report may not be able to be released in its entirety without the attorney general’s office asking a circuit court judge’s permission. Maryland law requires all grand jury records be kept secret.

Asked if the church would oppose such a request, Kendzierski told The Sun in an email: “The Archdiocese will continue to cooperate with any legal processes relating to the attorney general’s investigation.”

Voice of the Faithful, an independent organization of lay Catholics founded in 2002 in response to the church’s sexual abuse crises, recently released a report that ranked the Baltimore archdiocese third among U.S. dioceses and archdioceses in complying with the church’s child protection guidelines.

Lori, who has served as archbishop in Baltimore since 2012, is currently one of 10 leading clergy being considered as the next president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops gathered Monday in Baltimore for their annual meeting and plan to vote Tuesday on their leader for the next three years.

Although the attorney general’s office declined to comment on either the report’s pending release or any ancillary legal issues, abuse survivors who have long awaited Frosh’s findings told The Sun they expect it soon.

Survivors of abuse by priests and other church employees, such as lay teachers, were kept in limbo for years with virtually no new information about the investigation released publicly.

Survivor Jean Wehner was featured in the 2017 Netflix series “The Keepers,” which documented allegations of sexual abuse by the late priest A. Joseph Maskell at Archbishop Keough High School in the 1960s and 1970s, and the unsolved 1969 killing of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik, a nun who taught there.

After more than four years, Wehner said she was “on the verge of giving up hope” that Frosh’s report would be forthcoming. She, other survivors and their attorney recently requested a meeting with officials in the attorney general’s office for an update, but received no response.

Wehner said Wolf called her at work Thursday to tell her the report was in the process of “being wrapped up,” and that his office hoped to release it by Thanksgiving. She said he told her that if it wasn’t made public by then, it would be out by early December.

“To be honest, I felt very numb,” when she first got the news, Wehner said. Its import began sinking in over the weekend. What moved her most, she said, was knowing that if the report is “what it should be,” its release could cause abusers and potential abusers to think twice about their actions — and encourage more survivors to come forward.

Frosh, a Democrat, plans to retire in January after two four-year terms in office. Voters last week elected Democratic U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown to replace him.

David Lorenz, president of the Maryland chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, previously voiced frustration that the report was so long in coming. He said it was encouraging to receive the latest news.

“For four years we had no idea whether things were moving at all. But now we know there’s a report,” said Lorenz, who said a Catholic priest abused him during his teens in Kentucky. “We certainly hope it will be expedited through the legal system.”

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Lorenz said he hopes the report sheds light on the problem of clergy abuse, as well as what he called “the cover-up efforts of the diocese of Baltimore.”

Just as important, he said it will “vindicate the stories that survivors have been telling people for years now, but that the public has not always believed.” Like Wehner, he hoped it would encourage others “who have been holding onto this secret in their lives, sometimes for many years,” to come forward, “because now they know they have an ally.”

Of the new attorney general, Lorenz said: “I hope he’ll continue the investigation at a higher level. It needs to continue.”