Pa. Supreme Court Delays Results of Investigation into Sex Abuse at Local Dioceses
June 20, 2018
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is holding up the public release of a major grand jury report on priest abuse in six Roman Catholic dioceses across the state..
“Just moments ago, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania accepted legal challenges to the issuing of a grand jury report detailing widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. In an unsealed order, the Supreme Court has issued a stay of proceedings to review and decide those challenges,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “My legal team and I will continue fighting tirelessly to make sure the victims of this abuse are able to tell their stories and the findings of this investigation are made public to the people of Pennsylvania.”
The Supreme Court agreed to hear challenges to releasing the grand jury report, which is what is putting the public release on hold.
ORIGINAL STORY: In the coming weeks, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro plans to release the results of a two-year grand jury investigation into six Catholic dioceses throughout the state.
That investigation includes two local dioceses, Pittsburgh and Greensburg.
In April 2017, Channel 11 told you the grand jury was meeting behind closed doors to discuss allegations in Pittsburgh.
We spoke to alleged victims who testified before that grand jury. They said they have waited years for justice.
Channel 11 has already covered several cases alleging abuse in both local dioceses.
In 2007, the Pittsburgh Diocese settled with 32 plaintiffs alleging abuse. The $1.25 million settlement helped pay for counseling for the victims.
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Three others chose not to take the settlement money, in order to keep their lawsuits against the diocese active at the time.
The judge divided the settlement money based on severity of abuse and impact on the victim’s life.
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What to Expect
The grand jury investigated six of the state's eight dioceses, which collectively minister to more than 1.7 million Catholics. The report is expected to reveal details of widespread abuse and efforts to conceal and protect abusive priests.
A judge's ruling in early June gave the first real details of an investigation that started in July 2016. Judge Norman Krumenacker rejected an effort to delay the report's release or allow people named in the report to challenge parts of it before its release.
Krumenacker, a Cambria County judge who has been overseeing the grand jury, wrote in his opinion that the investigative body had heard from dozens of witnesses and reviewed over a half-million pages of internal documents from diocesan archives.
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The investigation involved allegations of child sexual abuse, failure of church structures to report the abuse to law enforcement agencies and obstruction of justice by people "associated with the Roman Catholic Church, local public officials and community leaders," he said.
The report could be groundbreaking, said Terry McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org.
Several smaller states, including Maine and New Hampshire, which each have one diocese that covers the whole state, have issued reports, but no state the size of Pennsylvania has conducted a full accounting, he said.
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"You're going to learn a lot about this crisis that you never knew before," he said. "Another thing you are going to see in a report of this geographic scope is an accounting of the geographic solution, meaning within the Pennsylvania dioceses there is a certain amount of mobility, and priests who have trouble in one diocese might be transferred to another within the state. There hopefully will be some accounting of that."
Two priests, one each in the Erie and Greensburg dioceses, have been arrested on child sexual abuse charges as a result of the probe.
Prosecutors have said one of those priests assaulted a boy more than 20 times as he was serving as an altar boy and later required the boy to confess the abuse to him.
The overall investigation involves the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton.
Statute of Limitations
It is unclear whether there will be any other charges filed as a result of the report, because of Pennsylvania's statute of limitations on child sexual abuse crimes.
Under state law, criminal charges can be filed up to the time the person making the claim of child sexual abuse is 50 years old. Civil claims can be filed for child sexual abuse until the person alleging the abuse turns 30.
Previously released grand jury reports on the other two Pennsylvania dioceses - Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown - advocated a two-year window to allow people alleging long-ago abuse to pursue civil claims. Efforts to pass that legislation have stalled or been blocked.
Rep. Mark Rozzi, who put forward the legislation, said he testified about his own experience of abuse at the hands of a priest in the Allentown diocese. Rozzi said that he plans to reintroduce legislation to extend the statute of limitations. The church has said changing the statute of limitations would be unfair to schools and parishes and could be financially crippling.
Previous Grand Juries
In 2005, the Philadelphia district attorney's office released a scathing grand jury report that said the panel had looked into allegations against more than 100 priests and other clergy. The report criticized internal practices of moving priests and not reporting allegations to law enforcement agencies.
In 2011, the office released another report, having instructed a second grand jury to examine whether the diocese had changed its practices.
The investigation resulted in several priests and members of the clergy being charged with crimes related to child sexual abuse. Those charged included Monsignor William Lynn, who was charged with endangering children for allegedly moving priests from parish to parish instead of removing them or reporting allegations to police.
In 2016, the Pennsylvania attorney general's office released the results of a statewide investigative grand jury in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, the state's least populated diocese. It detailed allegations of abuse against more than 50 priests and others in the church by hundreds of children over decades.
The report noted the process by which bishops were told to keep secret the allegations of abuse by priests.
Once that first statewide grand jury report was released, Rozzi said, the attorney general's office was overrun with phone calls from people alleging abuse by clergy or by teachers at religious schools.
"We demanded that they look into the remaining dioceses, at this point. If you think it's going on here and here, then you know it's happening in the remaining dioceses," he said.