Union-Bulletin [Walla Walla WA]
December 3, 2022
By Lee O. Sanderlin, The Baltimore Sun
Women featured in “The Keepers,” a 2017 Netflix documentary series about clergy sexual abuse at a Baltimore-area Catholic girls school in the 1960s and ‘70s, expanded on their request Friday for the full public release of a report examining sexual misconduct by clergy throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Teresa Lancaster and Jean Wehner, who were victimized during their time at Archbishop Keough High School, filed their initial motion Wednesday after learning from a Baltimore Sun story that Baltimore’s Roman Catholic archdiocese is helping pay legal fees for a group of people named in the report who are asking a judge to make secret the court proceedings around its release.
In a supplement to the motion, filed on Friday morning, an attorney representing Lancaster and Wehner is making additional arguments for the report’s release, including that it no longer should be considered privileged material because the archdiocese already has a copy of the report.
Four years ago, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh ordered an investigation into the church’s history of sexual abuse. His office completed its report in mid-November, a 456-page document detailing allegations of sexual abuse and torture at the hands of priests and other church officials going back eight decades.
The report, which also reveals how Catholic officials through the decades covered up abuse, and in some cases, enabled it, is not public. It relies on more than 100,000 pages of grand jury materials, which are secret under Maryland law without a court order releasing them.
Frosh’s office filed a motion Nov. 17 asking a Baltimore Circuit Court judge’s permission to release the report, saying to do so would be in the public’s interest.
But Kurt Wolfgang, the women’s attorney, believes there is no longer any reason to presume the report is privileged material. In Friday’s court filing, Wolfgang, who also heads the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center, wrote that because the archdiocese has a copy of the report, its secrecy under grand jury protections no longer exists.
“Recent news reports indicate that the entirety of the report has been released to an erstwhile target of the investigation, the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” Wolfgang wrote, calling the disclosure “peculiar.”
“When information is sufficiently widely known, it loses its character as grand jury material,” Wolfgang added.
The Sun first reported Nov. 18 that the attorney general’s office had provided the report to church officials around midday Nov. 15.
While the archdiocese has repeatedly said it supports the document’s release, it also has questioned its accuracy without providing specifics.
The church’s financial support of an anonymous group seeking to make secret the court proceedings especially drew Wolfgang and his clients’ ire.
The anonymous group’s filing does not exactly explain why the group wants to keep the proceedings secret, but argues that they should be sealed because they relate to a grand jury investigation. The group’s attorneys wrote in court papers they would only reveal their clients’ identities in a closed hearing.
It’s also not clear how group members know they are in the secret report. A church spokesperson told The Sun the attorney general’s office did not contact any of the individuals comprising the group in order to give them a chance to respond to the report’s content.
Wolfgang, in his Friday filing, claims the church provided the report to the anonymous group. The archdiocese could not immediately confirm this on Friday.
Although group members have not publicly stated what objections they have, if any, to the report, abuse survivors and the attorney general’s office believe they oppose its release. Attorneys William J. Murphy and Gregg Bernstein represent the group, and Murphy wrote in an email to The Sun he could neither comment nor answer any questions about the matter.
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Baltimore has previously said the church wants to protect the privacy and legal rights of those who are mentioned in the report but not accused of abuse.
Bernstein, who was Baltimore state’s attorney from 2010 to 2014, has previously aided the church in an investigation of an official in a neighboring diocese at Archbishop William E. Lori’s request. In 2018, Bernstein led a team investigating West Virginia Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, who used his position to engage in sexual and financial abuses. That investigation’s findings were sent to the Vatican, and found Bransfield had given hundreds of thousands of dollars to other church officials, including Lori.
Lori’s name, along with 10 other high-ranking clergy, was removed from Bernstein’s report, at the archbishop’s request.
Raquel Coombs, a spokesperson for Frosh’s office, told The Sun earlier this week the archdiocese’s decision to pay lawyers who represent members of the anonymous group shows the church also wants the report to remain secret, at least in part.
“The archdiocese is paying for the opposition to the release of the report,” Coombs said.
David Lorenz, the Maryland director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said this week that he was angry the church would express support for the report’s release while helping to fund the opposition.
“They make the statement they’ll do everything they can to help abuse victims,” Lorenz said. “They say one thing and do another. This is so typical.”
(Baltimore Sun reporter Jonathan M. Pitts contributed to this article.)