Supreme Court Muzzles Grand Jury Report on Priest Abuse until Challenges Are Resolved
By Debra Erdley
June 26, 2018
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which stayed the release of a sweeping secret grand jury investigation into allegations of sexual abuse in Catholic dioceses across the state, said Monday it will withhold the report to give unindicted people named in it a chance to challenge its findings.
In an unsigned opinion that shed light on last week's brief ruling, the justices said “many individuals” named in the grand jury report that examined decades of abuse reports in six dioceses, including Greensburg and Pittsburgh, petitioned the court, saying they were denied due process to defend their reputations.
Noting that reputation is a right under the state constitution and that some petitions have yet to be reviewed, the justices said they will review the temporary stay once those challenges “can be resolved, or an informed and fair determination can be made as to whether a continued stay is warranted.”
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro initially said he would make the report public this week. Although he did not oppose the delay, he is urging the court to act swiftly.
“While we did not oppose giving the court a matter of days to conduct a careful review and promptly rule on these motions, that time is quickly expiring,” Shapiro spokesman Joe Grace said.
“Individuals named in the grand jury report filed motions, including a request for a stay, to permanently suppress the voices of victims of widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church,” Grace said. “The Office of Attorney General stands in total opposition to that position and is fighting with all of its legal ability to ensure the publication of this report.”
The justices did not put any time limits on their stay.
The grand jury that met in Pittsburgh for 22 months completed its work at the end of April. Under grand jury secrecy rules, the names of those challenging its report remain sealed.
Although it has yet to be publicly released, the 800-plus page grand jury report was given to officials in the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Erie, Allentown and Scranton in May. Spokesmen for six dioceses, where officials are believed to be crafting their responses, said church officials had no objection to its release.
Abuse victims who testified before the investigative panel and attorneys who represented them said they were shocked when the Supreme Court blocked the release of the document.
The high court intervened to block the release of the report last week after Judge Norman A. Krumenacker III, the grand jury supervisor, denied a series of petitions filed by unindicted individuals seeking an opportunity to cross-examine their accusers.
Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.