New filings in a suit to stop the release of a Pennsylvania attorney general’s report on clergy sex abuse offer a window into who is seeking to keep the report secret and why.
The documents were made public Friday by the state Supreme Court, which blocked the release of the grand jury report until the appeals could be heard.
The filings list 14 individuals, identified only by initials, and the reasons they are opposing the release of the report. In some cases, they provide details of the abuse allegations made against the unnamed individuals in the report.
For instance, a church official identified as D.D. objected to the charge that he should have informed a school district that a priest was previously the subject of an “abuse or sexual misconduct investigation” involving children. The filing in D.D.’s case said the grand jury’s criticism was based on misreading of the relevant law.
Another priest, identified as M.L., allegedly watched another cleric sexually abuse a child, but failed to report the abuse to law enforcement, a filing said. In his response, M.L. argued that the allegation is false, and as a result the full report should not be made public.
Another church official, identified as J.S., allegedly refused to report a sexual-misconduct case to his bishop. Instead, he is said to have told a mother to have “her daughters contact him themselves.” He challenged the accuracy of the account.
These allegations and legal arguments came as clergy past and present pursue legal challenges to block the release of what is said to be a wide-ranging investigation into child sex abuse and cover-ups in Catholic dioceses across the state. The Attorney General’s Office spent two years reviewing the actions and records of six of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses. Philadelphia’s archdiocese and the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese have already been the subject of public investigative reports.
Initially, the court battle to block the release of the report was fought in almost total secrecy, until a lower-court ruling revealed that a group of unnamed individuals had filed objections to the pending exposé. Eventually, the state’s highest court, in a one-paragraph statement, confirmed it was hearing appeals in the case.
In response to filings by news organizations, including the Inquirer and Daily News, seeking the release of the report, lawyers involved in the appeals disclosed that their clients included about two dozen former and past clergy.
On Friday, the court revealed more, listing 14 of the challenges as well as providing a brief summary of the legal issues raised. In its Friday action, the Supreme Court also set tight deadlines for participants to file their arguments. It was not immediately clear why the court summarized just 14 claims when about two dozen individuals are opposing release of the report.
The filings revealed that almost all of the petitioners claim their due process rights were violated when the judge overseeing the investigation denied them a hearing to contest how they are to be portrayed in the grand jury report.
Some have specific reasons to object to the report’s release.
One claim was made on the behalf of a deceased priest, initials L.O., who was characterized in the report as an abuser, an allegation that the challengers said was unproved. This appears to be a reference to the Rev. Lawrence O’Connell, a priest in the Pittsburgh Diocese who died in 1986. In a 2004 lawsuit, O’Connell was accused of abusing children while assigned to a suburban parish. The diocese settled the suit, which named 17 former and current priests as abusers, for $1.25 million.
Another cleric said the pending report would unfairly reveal his private psychiatric assessments and treatment plans. Identified as R.L., he said this would violate no less than five laws and constitutional protections.
Another official, initials L.B., said the report implied he had falsely cleared another priest of wrongdoing and left him “to endanger the welfare of children.” The unnamed priest said the charge was false.
A petitioner identified as T.S. challenged the law authorizing the grand jury, saying the Investigating Grand Jury Act itself violates the state constitution by depriving people of their due process rights.
In detailing the 14 cases, the court asked their lawyers to file detailed arguments by Tuesday. The court orders state that redacted versions of those briefs will be made public once they are reviewed by state prosecutors to make sure that no grand jury information is revealed prematurely.
Clerics Fighting the Grand Jury Report
Recent orders issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court identify the initials and claims of 14 of the former and current clerics who have filed to block the release of the grand jury report on abuse in six Roman Catholic dioceses in the state.
- E.L. says the report would “irrevocably damage” his reputation.
- M.L. claims the report falsely says he witnessed child sexual abuse by a fellow priest and failed to report that abuse to law enforcement.
- D.D. says the evidence doesn’t prove that he should have told a school district that a priest had been the subject of an “abuse or sexual misconduct investigation” involving children.
- J.S. says the report concludes that instead of reporting allegations of sexual misconduct to a bishop, he told the mother of the victims to have her daughters contact him themselves.
- L.B. says the report incorrectly implies that he falsified a form clearing a priest to “endanger the welfare of children.”
- J.M. says the judge denied his due process rights by denying him a pre-release hearing.
- T.K. says the judge denied his due process rights by denying him a pre-release hearing.
- The estate of L.O. says the deceased priest was improperly characterized as a “child sexual abuse” offender. This appears to be a reference to the Rev. Lawrence O’Connell, a priest in the Pittsburgh Diocese who died in 1986 and was accused of abusing children years later.
- R.L. says the report would improperly release confidential medical and psychotherapy records.
- W.T. says the judge overseeing the investigation failed to properly determine the evidence against him.
- A.F. says the judge overseeing the investigation failed to properly determine the evidence against him.
- D.T. says the report’s conclusions are not supported by a preponderance of evidence.
- J.L. says a judge denied his due process rights by denying him a pre-release hearing.
- T.S. asked the court to rule on whether the Investigating Grand Jury Act is constitutional.