Baltimore judge orders release of redacted investigation into Archdiocese of Baltimore sex abuse

The Baltimore Banner [Baltimore MD]

February 24, 2023

By Tim Prudente, Julie Scharper, Dylan Segelbaum, and Liz Bowie

Saying “the need for disclosure outweighs the need for secrecy,” a Baltimore judge has ordered the release of a redacted version of the grand jury investigation into a history of child sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Circuit Judge Robert Taylor Jr.’s order, signed Friday, said he will hear arguments on whether to release the entire report at a later date.

The report could be released as soon as next month, but the judge must first approve an attorney general’s list of those individuals affected by its public release, and those individuals must be notified. They include priests accused of abuse, and those who hid abuse, enabled it or assisted in a cover up. The list must be presented to the judge on or before March 13.

“Keeping this report from the public is an injustice,” Taylor wrote. “The only form of justice that may now be available is a public reckoning — a disclosure of the facts as found by the Office of Attorney General and contained in this report.”

Investigators with the Maryland Attorney General’s Office completed the 456-page investigation and asked the courts in November for permission to release their findings to the public. They told the courts that they looked back 80 years and identified 158 priests within the archdiocese accused of the “sexual abuse” and “physical torture” of more than 600 victims.

The report marks the first time authorities have sought to document the extent of child sexual abuse within the Catholic church of Maryland. Investigators told the courts they found a history of “pervasive” sexual abuse by the priesthood, as well as a coverup and “complicit silence” by church leaders.

State law requires a judge approve the release of grand jury materials. Lawyers for the church, the state and survivors have sought to weigh in on whether the report should come out.

Taylor’s writing is direct and uncompromising about the need for justice. He wrote in his order that the “hundreds of victims of clerical abuse over the years have suffered from decades of systemic abuse.” Changes in criminal laws, the passage of time and efforts within the church to hide the abuse have “ensured perpetrators will escape any form of formal criminal sanctions.”

“The same can be said for the individuals who went to sometimes extraordinary lengths to protect abusers, bury accusations, and essentially enable the rape and torture of children and young adults for many years,” Taylor wrote.

Much of the material in the report is not secret, Taylor said, adding that investigators obtained the information in other ways, such as conducting interviews and reviewing public records. The court, he said, is persuaded that continuing to delay the release and maintaining secrecy are “far more damaging to the cause of justice than what might be suffered by these individuals in feeling compelled to publicly justify their behavior.”

The grand jury investigation is over, Taylor said, which reduces the need for secrecy. He said it’s sometimes appropriate that people face public condemnation for their actions. Taylor is giving people the right to be heard before an unredacted version of the report is released.

The grand jury investigation resulted in one indictment. Neil Adleberg, the former head wrestling coach at Mount Saint Joseph High School, was charged in Baltimore County with sexual abuse of a minor and related offenses. The attorney general’s office reported that “no other criminal indictments or charges are being sought as a result of the investigation,” Taylor said.

Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown said his office is “pleased with the Court’s order today permitting the interim release of a redacted version” of the report. He said in a statement that his office would “move expeditiously to comply with the court’s order and prepare a redacted copy of the report to be released upon review and approval by the court.”

The judge made note that the release of the report comes as lawmakers in Annapolis are debating legislation to repeal some immunity they granted to the Catholic church and other institutions from lawsuits over child sexual abuse.

He said release of the report should not be delayed because it might be useful during deliberations of the bill.

Members of the General Assembly have discussed the repeal for years only to stop short because of questions about whether such a move would withstand a challenge in the courts. In a letter this week, Brown concluded that he could make a “good faith” defense of a repeal should it be challenged. It was the strongest words yet to support the legality of such a move.

The Friday order brought the most direct explanation yet for what led authorities to begin their investigation into a history of sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Taylor wrote the investigation began after revelations in Pennsylvania that Cardinal William Keeler engaged in the systematic cover-up of clergy sexual abuse there. Keeler served as archbishop of Baltimore from 1989 to 2007.

Sexual abuse survivors reacted with relief and gratitude.

Linda Malat Tiburzi said she felt “a huge mixed bag of thoughts and emotions” to hear that the report would be released about five years after the attorney general’s office first began its investigation of the archdiocese.

”There have been tears. There has been anger. There is gratitude for the investigative team in the attorney general’s office for the amount of time they have spent on this,” said Tiburzi, who said she was brutally raped for years by a teacher at the Catholic Community Middle School in the 1970s.

”It’s surreal. Until I actually hold the report in my hands, I don’t believe the day is actually coming,” Tiburzi added. “But I’m grateful because it’s been a long damn time coming.”

Liz Murphy, a classmate of Tiburzi’s, said she was “grateful” the report would finally be made public.

”The less redactions the better,” Murphy said. “Justice is way overdue in this case.”

Murphy, whose testimony against her former teacher, John Merzbacher, led to him being sentenced to four life sentences for repeatedly raping her when she was in middle school, said the Catholic church had repeatedly failed to protect her and other child sexual abuse survivors.

”I’m grateful the state, at least today, is trying to make this public and achieve some justice for survivors,” Murphy said.

Kurt Wolfgang, an attorney for two of the survivors who received standing in the case, Teresa Lancaster and Jean Hargadon Wehner, said he was “encouraged” by Taylor’s order because it seemed to suggest the judge was might eventually release names of newly accused priests or those who had covered up abuse.

”That’s one of our goals in this procedure,” said Wolfgang, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center. “What we’d really like obviously is to see some of those people get indicted. But the next best thing is to see those names so we can do things to try to pursue an indictment.”

The archdiocese said it would not oppose the release and pointed to steps it had taken to correct its culture and support survivors of abuse. The archdiocese, however, also acknowledged that it is paying for the legal fees of more than a dozen people who are named in the report but not accused of sexual abuse and do not want their names released.A spokesman for the Archdiocese did not immediately respond to the impending release of a redacted report.

These people, whose identities have not been disclosed, are represented by prominent attorneys Gregg Bernstein and William Murphy. With the request pending to release the report, Baltimore Circuit Judge Anthony Vittoria sealed the case in December. All arguments over the report have remained confidential.

It’s typical for judges to rotate assignments with the new year. Taylor was appointed to the bench in 2018, and he took over the case in January.

Meanwhile, more survivors sought to join the proceedings and urge the court to release the report. Attorneys representing two groups of victims have filed motions to unseal the case and expedite the release of the report.

Former Assistant Attorney General Carrie Williams told the court that the report mentions 115 priests who were prosecuted for sex abuse or previously identified by the archdiocese as credibly accused. State investigators found an additional 43 priests who were accused, but have not been publicly identified, she wrote.

Thirty of the 43 priests have died, Williams wrote. That leaves more than a dozen living priests who have not been previously accused of sexual abuse. Williams told the courts that the office has redacted those names from the report.

“By doing so, the office has satisfied the only outstanding argument in support of non-disclosure,” she wrote.