AG Argues Church Abuse Grand Jury Report Should Be Public

Jul 5, 2018

Pennsylvania's attorney general told the state Supreme Court on Thursday he supports a request by news organizations that the court order the release of an extensive report into child sexual abuse and attempts to cover it up in several of the state's Roman Catholic dioceses.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro also said in the court filing that his office opposes requests by unnamed parties to present their own evidence, question witnesses and rewrite the grand jury report "in accordance with their preferred view of the facts."

He argued the report should not be delayed, calling it a matter of exceptional public interest.

"Hundreds of victims, thousands of parishioners and many members of the community are awaiting the report," Shapiro wrote in the court filing. "The longer it is held, the greater the risk of undermining public confidence in the judicial system."

The judge who supervised the statewide investigative grand jury ordered the report's release a month ago, but the Supreme Court on June 20 held it up, citing challenges to the release by "many individuals" named in the document.

The court has sealed the names of people challenging the report's release, as well as any court papers that they may have filed.

In a five-page opinion released last month, the Supreme Court said most of the challengers claim the report's discussion of them would violate reputational rights guaranteed by the state constitution and that they have a due process right to be heard by the grand jury.

Shapiro countered that unindicted people who were cited in the report in a way that "could be construed as critical" were given an unrestricted right to file responses that are expected to be released along with the report.

Shapiro filed a document under seal seeking the release on Monday, the same day the news organizations separately asked to intervene and argue for it to be made public, along with docket sheets and filings.

The report concerns six of the state's Roman Catholic dioceses — Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton. Five of the six bishops declined to appear before the grand jury, instead submitting written statements. The Erie bishop testified, according to court papers.

The grand jury supervising judge, Norman Krumenacker, described the investigation as involving allegations of child sexual abuse, failure to report it, endangering the welfare of children and obstruction of justice by people associated with the church, as well as local public officials and community leaders.

Thursday's filing by the attorney general said a further delay in its release "cannot be justified."

"The challengers have failed completely to explain why their right of unrestricted response is insufficient to comply with due process and permit immediate release of the report here," Shapiro wrote. "Their responses will function in the same way as the report — by speaking directly to the citizenry. The only 'adjudicating' body is the public itself."

The grand jury has finished its term and been disbanded.

The attorney general opposed a suggestion by the news organizations that, if the court decides it needs more time to consider the legal challenges, it could immediately order the report's release with only those parts that are in question shielded from view.

Redaction, Shapiro argued, "would only further undermine confidence in the process, and could suggest the appearance of preferential treatment of particular citizens."

Continued secrecy over challenges to the grand jury as an institution, he said, "may itself undermine confidence by suggesting the appearance that certain citizens are granted the privilege of litigating out of the public eye despite the impact of the litigation on the rights of all citizens."