Pa. Supreme Court: Names of accused are permanently redacted from Catholic Church sexual abuse grand jury report

By Nicholas Malfitano | Dec 5, 2018

HARRISBURG – The identities of clergy members accused of committing sexual abuse against children and teenagers in August’s state grand jury report detailing such abuse statewide in the Catholic Church will remain redacted, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has decided.

On Monday, the Court ruled in a 6-1 majority decision that the names of the church officials contained in the report would not be made public due to concerns over constitutional protections afforded to reputational rights and the separation of powers between the state judiciary and legislature.

In the report released Aug. 14, it revealed findings that more than 1,000 Pennsylvania children were raped or sexually abused by about 300 pedophile priests throughout six Pennsylvania dioceses (excluding Altoona-Johnstown and Philadelphia, which were previously investigated) over several decades, along with the “systematic cover-up” of that same rape and sexual abuse by numerous leaders in the Church’s hierarchy, both in Pennsylvania and Vatican City.

According to a class action lawsuit filed by abuse victims which seeks to compel release of records by the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania, of the 301 priests identified in the grand jury report, 10 or less appear in Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law database.

The U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the child sex abuse scandal in Pennsylvania, looking to force the Church to turn over a host of records, testimony and other information.

None of the clergy members accused in the grand jury report has yet faced criminal charges.

Justice Debra Todd authored the Court’s majority opinion in this matter.

“We must make permanent the redaction of petitioners’ identifying information…which we previously ordered as an interim measure, as this is the only viable due process remedy we may now afford to petitioners to protect their constitutional rights to reputation,” Todd said in the 18-page decision.

Todd continued that where the grand jury found the named clergy members “perpetrated heinous criminal acts," the disclosure of their identities “presents a substantial risk of impairment of those individuals’ right to their reputation.”

Last July, the Court had decided to temporarily redact the accused clergy members’ names, while constitutional issues connected to due process which were raised by counsel for the accused were given due consideration by the judiciary.

While there were those who made suggestions the Court take that same opportunity to streamline the Investigating Grand Jury Act’s process, call for the involvement of a supervising judge or reconvene the grand jury itself, the Court deferred any such action to the General Assembly of the legislature – in keeping with the separation of powers between branches of state governance.

“We conclude it is not within our purview to wholly recraft a purely statutory process and compel the parties to reopen and participate anew in an extra-statutory proceeding. Simply stated, we conclude that we may not judicially correct the Investigating Grand Jury Act,” Todd said.

As a result, Todd and the majority of her colleagues concluded the report’s redactions of the accused clergy members’ names would stand permanently.

“We acknowledge that this outcome may be unsatisfying to the public and to the victims of the abuse detailed in the report. While we understand and empathize with these perspectives, constitutional rights are of the highest order, and even alleged sexual abusers, or those abetting them, are guaranteed by our Commonwealth’s Constitution the right of due process,” Todd stated.

“It is the unfortunate reality that the Investigating Grand Jury Act fails to secure this right, creating a substantial risk that petitioners’ reputations will be irreparably and illegitimately impugned. This prospect we may not ignore. Therefore, as no other remedy is presently available, we order that the temporary redaction of petitioners’ names and other identifying information…be made permanent.”

Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor alone dissented from the opinion of his colleagues.

“For those of the petitioners who were never afforded the opportunity to testify before the grand jury’s term expired, I conclude that due process requires that they be permitted to do so before a supervising judge,” Saylor stated.

“I would also direct that, after the judge entertains the testimony and arguments, he should make a determination whether the grand jury’s challenged criticisms of each individual petitioner are supported by a preponderance of the evidence and prepare an opinion explaining why this is or is not so. Finally, I would require these opinions to be filed under seal, at least until the claims involving petitioners’ reputational rights are finally resolved.”

In a statement issued Monday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro expressed his continued support for the state’s Catholic Church abuse victims.

“I have consistently fought for the release of the entire, unredacted grand jury report into widespread sexual abuse and cover up within the Pennsylvania Catholic Church. Today’s order allows predator priests to remain in the shadows and permits the Church to continue concealing their identities,” Shapiro said.

“I will continue to stand with all survivors, fighting to ensure every victim gets their day in court and that every predator priest and every bishop and church official who enabled child abuse is held accountable for their abhorrent conduct. The public will not relent in its demand that anyone involved in this widespread abuse and cover up be named. No one victim’s truth is any less important than another and no one’s criminal conduct any less loathsome.”

Shapiro added while the Court’s order prevents him from releasing the clergy members’ names publicly, it does not prevent the individual dioceses from releasing them to their own parishioners and members of the public. He called on the diocesan bishops to do so immediately in the interest of transparency.

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nick.malfitano@therecordinc.com

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