Court: Probe found over 300 ‘predator priests’ in 6 Pennsylvania dioceses
HARRISBURG – A landmark grand jury report identifies more than 300 “predator priests” in six of Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses, the state Supreme Court said Friday in ordering the findings released.
The justices said the report on clergy child sexual abuse going back decades and allegations of cover-up efforts will be made public but without the names or “individual specific information” of priests and others who have challenged the findings, at least in the initial version to be released.
The court wants the redaction process to be completed by Aug. 8, when the 900-page report is expected to be made public. If there are disputes about what a court-appointed special master should black out, the report will go out the following week.
The Supreme Court said it will consider the challenges by some priests and others who say their constitutional rights to their reputations and to due process of law are being violated, based on not being able to address the grand jury.
“We believe that the risk that the grand jury’s pronouncements will be seen as carrying the weight of governmental and judicial authority – and as themselves embodying the voice of the community relative to particular findings – is substantial,” Chief Justice Thomas Saylor wrote .
Giving the report’s subjects the right to file written responses, Saylor wrote, is “not sufficiently effective.” He said there are divisions within the court about what can be done to provide the required due process of law. The court will hold oral argument on the subject in Philadelphia in September.
Saylor said the court wants to release the bulk of the report, warning the priests they can’t assert objections to generalized content of the report simply because it might pertain to them.
“For example, with regard to (the report)’s depiction of more than 300 clergymen as ‘predator priests,’ this assertion will not be suppressed on the basis that a particular appellant has been named as being among the 300,” Saylor said.
Several lawyers for priests who have challenged the report declined to comment or did not return messages seeking comment.
The report is the result of a two-year investigation, described by the judge who supervised the grand jury as addressing allegations of child sexual abuse, failure to report it, endangering the welfare of children and obstruction of justice by people “associated with the Roman Catholic Church, local public officials and community leaders.”
The judge has said the probe involved dozens of witnesses and more than half a million pages of internal church documents.
The investigation pertains to the Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses, which together consist of 1.7 million people.
Previous investigations found widespread sexual abuse by priests in the state’s two other dioceses, Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown.
The attorney general’s office argued vigorously for the release, calling it a matter of exceptional public interest.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro described the court’s decision as a victory for abuse survivors.
“Our fear throughout this process has been that the entire grand jury report would be shelved and victims’ truth would be silenced,” Shapiro said. “Today’s order ensures that will not be the case.”
Criminal charges can only be brought under the statute of limitations in effect at the time of the crime. For some people alleging abuse in the 1970s, that means two years from when the crime happened. For others, it means two years after they turned 18.
Current state law allows prosecutors to file criminal charges before the one-time child victim turns 50 and for victims to seek civil damages in court before they turn 30.