Six of Pennsylvania’s Catholic Dioceses Involved in Grand Jury Probe on Clergy Sex Abuse

| Jul 10, 2018 | Firm News

Six Catholic Dioceses in Pennsylvania are the subject of a two-year grand jury probe into decades of sexual misconduct by Catholic priests.  Dozens of witnesses testified in the grand jury investigation that victim advocates expect will produce the largest and most exhaustive clergy sexual abuse report by a U.S. state. The Report is expected to contain details of widespread abuse and efforts to conceal and protect abusive priests. It remains undetermined, however, whether this report will ever be made  available to the public.

It is being widely-reported that the Church is lobbying to keep the report under seal.  Meanwhile, many of the District Attorneys in Pennsylvania are calling for its public release.  In a controversial decision, Pennsylvania Supreme Court temporarily held up the release of a report on June 20 just days before it was expected to be made public. The two-paragraph order did not explain the reasons.

Victims and their lawyers view the investigation as a vindication of the victim’s trauma and the years of reliving the abuse and the fear that nobody would believe them. They want the grand jury report to bring sweeping reforms and force 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.

The grand jury investigation looked into six of the eight dioceses covering Pennsylvania: Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Diocese of Allentown-Johnston are not part of the probe as they were the subject of prior Grand Jury reports.

Among the considerations on public disclosure include whether the process established in the grand jury statute for those “criticized,” but not charged in a grand jury report is “constitutionally insufficient;” whether individuals “criticized,” but not charged in a grand jury report are entitled to a hearing; and whether a supervising judge of a grand jury has the authority to redact a grand jury report.

Other issues included whether a grand jury violates federal and state constitutional rights to due process and the right reputation in that it doesn’t afford uncharged individuals the right to see and challenge evidence presented against them; and whether individuals are permitted to present their own witnesses and testimony, as well as cross-examine witnesses before a grand jury.