HARRISBURG, Pa. – Pennsylvania's attorney general and lawyers for current and retired priests came down on opposite sides over an effort by news organizations to unseal an extensive report into child sexual abuse and attempts to cover it up in several Roman Catholic dioceses.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a filing to the state Supreme Court supporting the release 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. "The longer it is held, the greater the risk of undermining public confidence in the judicial system."
Shapiro called the priests' criticism of the report "nothing more than a desperate attempt to stop the public from learning the truth about their abhorrent conduct."
Lawyers for nearly two dozen unnamed current and retired clergy members filed a group response that described the report as replete with errors and "improper assertions," arguing that without revisions the report will irreparably harm their reputations and deny them the due process the law guarantees.
"The gross mischaracterizations, oversimplifications and outright erroneous conclusions in the report that violate the Investigative Grand Jury Act and constitutional due process must be corrected before the report is released to the public," they told the court.
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 people named in it.
The court has sealed the names of people challenging the report's release and the court papers they have filed.
The clergy members told the justices they previously filed petitions about "strikingly inaccurate observations and grossly mischaracterized conclusions, sometimes on the basis of multiple levels of hearsay, and often without the alleged victim having personally made any complaint."
In a separate filing, a retired priest said there was not enough evidence to support the claims against him and he wanted an opportunity to review redactions if the report is released with sections blacked out. Another man, whose filing was largely blacked out, cautioned against quick action by the court, warning it could lead to "injustice and confusion."
Another filing by people describing themselves as Improperly Named Parties, including one who is dead, said the report should not be released because they and others "have not done anything that warrants naming or branding them as offenders."
Most of their lawyers did not return phone messages, and a few declined to comment.
The Supreme Court said last month most of the challengers claim that the report's discussion of them would violate reputational rights guaranteed by the state constitution and that they should be allowed 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.
Continued secrecy over challenges to the grand jury as an institution, Shapiro 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."
Shapiro filed a document under seal seeking the release on Monday, the day the news organizations separately asked to intervene and argue for it to be made public with docket sheets and filings.
The report concerns six of the state's Roman Catholic dioceses — Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton.
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, local public officials and community leaders.
The grand jury has finished its term and has been disbanded.