The Pennsylvania Attorney General has appealed to Pope Francis for help in publishing a report on clerical sexual abuse in that state.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro requested the pope’s help in a July 25 letter published Thursday by the Philadelphia Enquirer.
The 800-page report is the result of a two-year grand jury investigation, led by Shapiro, into the handling of sexual abuse cases by the five Pennsylvania dioceses – Altoona-Johnstown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. It was originally scheduled for public release at the end of June this year, but legal challenges by individuals named in the report, including some priests, have delayed publication.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered that the report’s release be delayed while it considered arguments that some named in the report had not been granted due process by the investigation and would have their reputations unfairly damaged.
In a letter to Pope Francis, dated 25 July, Shapiro recalled meeting the pope at an event during the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
“I am a great admirer of you and your work – especially your commitment to fighting for the defenseless,” Shapiro writes, saying that they met at a reception at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, after which Francis went on to meet with victims of sexual abuse, to whom he expressed his sadness and apologies.
“You went on to express remorse that the Church failed to hear and believe [victims] for so long but that now you, the Holy Father, ‘hears and believes [them].’ You pledged to follow the path of truth wherever it my lead.”
Shapiro wrote that he has reason to believe “at least two leaders of the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania” are behind the legal challenges delaying the grand jury report’s release.
While conceding that these unnamed “leaders” are not acting directly to block the report, Shapiro suggested that they are encouraging those who are.
The letter concluded with a “respectful request” that Pope Francis instruct Church leaders in the state – presumably the bishops – to abandon their “destructive efforts to silence the survivors [of abuse].”
Earlier this week, Bishop Lawrence Persico, of the Diocese of Erie, told local media that he had seen the report and that its contents were “graphic,” “detailed,” and “sobering.” He also said that accounts of how abuse allegations were handled in previous decades would be unacceptable today.
Bishop Persico also addressed the legal challenges delaying the release of the report, saying he did not know who was behind them but that he was in favor of publication.
"I know I did not [block publication]," he said. "I've been calling from the very beginning that the grand jury report be released so it can be a voice for the victims. I'm not sure who all is behind this."
Pope Francis has underscored the need for victims to be heard. In a letter to the Chilean bishops, following the national sexual abuse crisis in that country, he wrote “one of our main faults and omissions [is] not knowing how to listen to victims.”
In that instance, the pope included himself among those who had not listened, and promised to do better.