Judge allows release of redacted grand jury probe of Baltimore archdiocese sexual abuse

The Daily Record [Baltimore MD]

February 24, 2023

By Madeleine O'Neill

[See also the full text of Associate Judge Robert Taylor’s order.]

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office will be allowed to release much of its 456-page investigation into the history of child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore as soon as next month, a city judge ruled Friday.

The report will be redacted to shield the identities of some people who are accused of committing sexual abuse or helping to cover it up, Baltimore Circuit Judge Robert Taylor Jr. decided.

Those people will have the opportunity to review the portions of the report that name them and object to the release of that information because the grand jury investigation did not offer them a chance to defend themselves against the claims.

The people who must be notified include: those who are accused in the report of abuse, covering up abuse, silencing abuse victims or participating in the transfer of accused abusers; people who were not previously identified in civil or criminal actions or in published reports from the archdiocese itself; people who were identified solely based on information gleaned from subpoenas of the archdiocese; and people who are currently alive.

About 208 people meet some of those criteria, Taylor wrote. The Attorney General’s Office will create a list of people it believes should be notified, and the archdiocese will be able to review and propose additions to the list, within the next 15 days.

Once Taylor has approved the list, the Attorney General’s Office can release a redacted report that does not include those names.

Taylor wrote that the public interest in seeing the report outweighs the need for secrecy in grand jury proceedings.

“The only form of justice that may now be available is a public reckoning,” he wrote. “Keeping this report from the public is an injustice.”

The report identifies 158 Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse, including 43 that were never publicly named by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, as part of a four-year investigation into child sexual abuse by members of the clergy. The investigation also identified more than 600 victims of sexual abuse over the past 80 years.

The process of releasing the report has been shrouded in secrecy since Baltimore Circuit Judge Anthony Vittoria ordered late last year that the proceedings would continue under seal. Grand jury proceedings are presumed secret, which is why the Attorney General’s Office had to ask permission to publish its findings.

Taylor took over the case from Vittoria and issued Friday’s ruling with a 31-page opinion.

The report is based on hundreds of thousands of pages of documents subpoenaed from the archdiocese, interviews with abuse victims and witnesses and public records.

Former Attorney General Brian E. Frosh launched the probe in 2019, after a similar investigation in Pennsylvania resulted in a nearly 900-page report detailing decades of abuse by more than 300 “predator priests” across the state.

The new attorney general, Anthony G. Brown, has continued Frosh’s push to publish the Maryland report.

In a statement Friday, Brown said he was “pleased with the court’s order today permitting the interim release of a redacted version of the Attorney General’s report on the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

“The office will 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,” Brown said.

A group of unnamed “interested parties” who are identified in the report intervened after the Attorney General’s Office asked to release its report in November. The Archdiocese and the interested parties asked that anyone named in the investigation who had not been identified previously be given a chance to respond to the allegations contained in the report.

Taylor agreed that those parties could have a chance to object before their names are made public. In grand jury proceedings, unlike in a criminal case, the accused does not have an opportunity to launch a defense or address the claims against them in any formal way.

A lawyer for the anonymous group, William J. Murphy, declined to comment Friday. The archdiocese was unable to provide comment by press time Friday.

Taylor acknowledged that the report will case some people in a poor light. But, the judge wrote, “sometimes it is proper that people face public opprobrium for their actions, especially when those same actions ensured that it would be impossible to properly test the claims of their accusers in a court of law.”

The grand jury’s investigation has led to one indictment in Baltimore County, but is not expected to result in any additional criminal charges, Taylor wrote, reducing the need for secrecy.

“The hundreds of victims of clerical abuse over the years have suffered from decades of systemic injustice,” he wrote. “As the state has argued in its pleadings, the passage of time, the changes in criminal laws over the years, and the concerted efforts of various individuals within the archdiocese have effectively ensured that the perpetrators of abuse identified in the report will escape any form of formal criminal sanction.

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

The report’s release is also likely to spur momentum among lawmakers who are considering abolishing the statute of limitations for lawsuits based on child sexual abuse claims.

Advocates say the change is necessary to win legal accountability against abusers and the institutions that protect them. Abuse survivors often don’t come forward with claims until they are in their 50s because of the stigma associated with sexual abuse.

Lawmakers are also weighing whether to create a retroactive window that would allow survivors to bring lawsuits even if their claims have already expired under the current statute of limitations. The church adamantly opposes a “lookback window,” which would likely revive its liability in hundreds of decades-old sexual abuse cases.

David Lorenz, who leads the Maryland chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he is pleased the report will be released, even in a redacted form. But he is disappointed that the redacted report won’t become available until mid-March, when the General Assembly’s 2023 session will have only a few weeks remaining.

“We’re fighting for our lives in Annapolis trying to get this thing passed,” Lorenz said. “I think people seeing the report would help very much in the effort to eliminate the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse in the state of Maryland.”