Several Pennsylvania news outlets and victims of clergy sex abuse sued Friday for the release of a grand jury report which details cases of abuse in six of the state's eight Catholic dioceses. The state supreme court had blocked the release.
Todd Frey, who testified to the grand jury about having been abused by a priest, filed a petition with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court July 6, saying the delayed release of the report is re-traumatizing victims. Philadelphia attorney Tom Kline has filed suit on behalf of another, unnamed victim.
Frey's court filing said the stay on the report's release “replicates and continues” the silencing he experienced as a youth.
Nine news outlets argued that Pennsylvania law requires that the more-than-800-page report, a “matter of extraordinary public importance”, be released publicly.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced June 29 he would be taking legal action to force the report's release.
The state's two dioceses which are not subjects of the report, Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown, have already undergone similar investigations.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court stayed the release of the report June 20, after numerous individuals named in the report objected to its release, citing concerns of due process and reputational rights guaranteed by the state constitution.
Those who requested a block on the release of the report have said that though they could file written rebuttals with the grand jury, they could not present their own testimony or evidence, or cross-examine witnesses.
The objections were made by around 24 persons, including current and former clerics. The dioceses named in the report have all said they did not apply for the stay, and that they support the publication of the report.
The individuals who asked for the stay said the report “denies them due process based upon the lack of a pre-deprivation hearing and/or an opportunity to be heard by the grand jury,” according to the state supreme court.
Justin Danilewitz, an attorney representing the current and former clerics who sought to block the report's release, said the report is replete with inaccuracies. He wrote that “grand jury secrecy protects those, like the Clergy Petitioners, whose reputations may be unjustly harmed, including the innocent wrongly accused.”
Lawyers for the media outlets requesting the report's release have said a redacted version could be released to respond to those concerns, while the court considers challenges to the full report's release, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Some priests have said they would not object to the release of a redacted version of the report, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.
Efrem Grail, an attorney representing an individual named in the report, has written that “There is simply no reason why speed in this entire proceeding will lead to anything other than injustice and confusion.”
Witnesses who testified to the grand jury want the report “to bring sweeping change, forcing their abusers and the church to be accountable and take responsibility. They hope it encourages other victims who haven't come forward after years of dealing alone with their trauma to get the help they need. They also hope it propels lawmakers to change Pennsylvania law to give prosecutors more time to pursue charges against child predators and victims more time to sue for damages,” according to the Associated Press.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted in 2002 a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which has been the foundation for the efforts to provide a safe environment in the Church in the US.
The charter obligates all compliant dioceses and eparchies to provide resources both for victims of abuse and resources for abuse prevention. Each year, the USCCB releases an extensive report on the dioceses and eparchies, including an audit of all abuse cases and allegations, and recommended policy guidelines for dioceses. The guidelines of the current charter have been implemented in every US diocese.
The charter has been continually updated, including earlier this year.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has said its stay order will be revisited “when the proceedings before it have advanced to a stage at which either the petitions for review can be resolved, or an informed and fair determination can be made as to whether a continued stay is warranted.”
Petitioners must submit briefs to the court by July 10, and the attorney general is to respond by July 13.