Grand jurors put 'heart and soul' into report on clergy abuse, judge says

By Peter Smith
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
August 14, 2019

He’s heard the often-quoted saying by a New York jurist — that grand jurors are such pawns of prosecutors, they would “indict a ham sandwich” if asked to do so.

But Judge Norman A. Krumenacker III said the grand jurors he supervised were anything but passive when they prepared a landmark report, released a year ago Wednesday, detailing a sordid history of sexual abuse and cover-up within six Catholic dioceses across Pennsylvania.

Judge Krumenacker is standing by their work, even if it drew scrutiny to grand jury processes that may make it the the last report of its kind in Pennsylvania.

He was the supervising judge of the 40th statewide grand jury, which issued the report about dioceses including Pittsburgh and Greensburg.

He said the grand jurors didn’t just rubber-stamp the recommendations of the Office of the Attorney General’s staff but screened out some cases and insisted on including others as the evidence warranted.

“The jurors, they had their heart and soul in this,” Judge Krumenacker said Tuesday. “We hear that business about the ham sandwich. Right now, I'm going to tell you, those people take this business serious. They challenge the OAG. They challenge each other.”

Judge Krumenacker, 65, of Johnstown, serves as president judge of Cambria County in addition to presiding over statewide grand juries. Sporting a green tie and a full white mustache, he discussed his work in a relaxed setting in the spartan surroundings of the Strip District office he uses when on grand jury business here.

He currently is supervising his fifth statewide grand jury (the commonwealth’s 43rd, for those keeping track). It convenes one week per month in Pittsburgh, as did the 40th as it worked on last year’s report into church abuse.

His current grand jury has issued its share of “presentments,” or findings that have led to charges ranging from human trafficking to drug peddling.

But Judge Krumenacker says not to expect a major report from this grand jury. That’s part of the fallout from challenges, upheld by the state Supreme Court, from clerics who claimed last year’s report violated their constitutionally protected reputations.

Statewide grand juries investigate cases that cross county lines or are referred by local district attorneys. The 40th grand jury investigated two priests who were ultimately convicted, but most of the cases occurred too long ago to be prosecuted. Grand juries can also issue reports that expose scandals and make policy recommendations, and this one named alleged perpetrators over past decades.

It started with an earlier statewide grand jury, which Judge Krumenacker also oversaw, that issued a scathing report in 2016 into sexual abuse in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. That grand jury also developed leads into alleged abuse in other dioceses.

“That kind of opened the proverbial Pandora's box,” the judge said, and led to the 40th grand jury’s investigation and the much bigger 2018 report.

“While this report exposes horrendous conduct, it goes back to the 1940s,” Judge Krumenacker said. “The public needs to also appreciate that, in that 75 years or whatever, there have been a lot of priests that have served their flock faithfully, thousands of them.”

Before the 2018 report was issued, about 20 priests challenged it for naming them for alleged abuse or cover-up. The state Supreme Court ultimately upheld their petitions, and their names have remained sealed.

Judge Krumenacker said he provided due-process protections as governed by law: affirming the report met the preponderance of evidence and providing those criticized with a chance to file a written rebuttal. 

Many did file rebuttals.

But other clerics contended that filing a rebuttal would mean little to the public, which could be swayed by an official judicial report without realizing it had a significantly lower burden of proof than a jury trial. The Supreme Court agreed in an opinion authored by Chief Justice Thomas Saylor,

Even before that controversy arose, a statewide task force had begun reviewing grand jury procedure, and it’s taking up the question of what burden of proof is sufficient for future grand jury reports. Its work is pending.

“The Supreme Court ruled that there was not enough due process,” Judge Krumenacker said. “And quite frankly, I really have no argument with that. I really don't. You know, my job is to follow the law. Supreme Court's job is to change the law when they see fit.”

He also ran into friction with the Supreme Court when he declined its request to redact the report himself before it was released, prompting the court to appoint a special master to do so. He said it would look like he was “changing my mind” by redacting a report he had already affirmed.

“I did my job as I saw fit,” he said. “The chief justice disagreed. And I have no problem with that. He's the boss.”

Judge Krumenacker will complete his oversight of the 43rd grand jury early next year and will fill out his term as president judge in Cambria County before retiring.

In June, Justice Saylor authorized a new state grand jury to start up in Pittsburgh. This one will be overseen by Judge Jeffrey Manning of Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

Judge Krumenacker said that didn’t reflect the controversies over the 40th grand jury but dates back to a conversation in the past when he told Justice Saylor, “whenever you want to change, change.”

“It's been a good run. I've enjoyed it,” he said. 

The judge said he’s looking forward to spending more time with grandchildren, joining them on fishing outings such as those he takes everywhere from tournaments on the Allegheny River to an outing off of Costa Rica, where he caught and released a 200-pound marlin on his 65th birthday.

As for the work he’ll probably be remembered best for, and which went public a year ago Wednesday, “I think the jurors did a magnificent job. And I was just proud to have the opportunity to guide it through the process.”



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