PA’s top court lets some clerics in Catholic sex-abuse report stay hidden

Hundreds of priests, clergy and other Catholic church officials were outed earlier this year by a Pennsylvania investigatory grand jury report released by Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

The report was released in August after weeks of delay pending legal objections from some of those named in the report that they were being denied their due-process rights. While the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania was eventually sided with Shapiro in releasing the report, some 11 clerics remained unidentified in the final version.

This week, the Supreme Court made that decision effectively permanent, ruling that the 11 former and current priests out of 300 priests named in the report had a constitutional “right to reputation.”

A situation wherein “the grand jury found that named individuals perpetrated heinous criminal acts, but for which no future criminal proceedings can likely be brought, presents a substantial risk of impairment of those individuals’ right to their reputation,” the court wrote.

Shapiro slammed the decision as another move protecting predators.

 “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,” he said in a statement. “Today’s order allows predator priests to remain in the shadows and permits the Church to continue concealing their identities.”

The court order comes as the church remains under a frenzy of new scrutiny over global revelations of decades of sexual abuse by men of the cloth being covered up and shielded from authorities by church leadership.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops held off on an official response on the issue during their national meeting in November, pending a global Vatican-organized meeting on the issue in February. The U.S. Department of Justice is reportedly investigating Pennsylvania archdioceses as well.

As the sex-abuse scandal roils the church and its followers, there also appears to have been a change in the pope’s views on homosexuality. While Pope Francis, when asked about gay priests, famously said, “Who am I to judge?” in 2013, he has recently taken a more restrictive position.

In an upcoming book, “The Strength of Vocation,” based on interviews between Pope Francis and Father Fernando Prado, the Holy Father is quoted telling Prado, “The church urges that persons with this rooted tendency not be accepted into ministry or consecrated life.”

It is unclear if this change in position relates to the sex abuse scandal, which is most commonly reported in homosexual encounters, but which has also been documented as being perpetrated by heterosexual priests on victims of the opposite sex.

In the case of the 11 anonymous clerics, the Pennsylvania high court said that being named in connection with the grand jury report, even if they were allowed to attach their letters of self-defense, could sustain irreparable damage to their reputations.

“Because the report contains numerous allegations involving the reprehensible behavior of a multiplicity of individuals, we deemed the cumulative effect of those allegations as likely to inflame a reader’s ire, and, thus, impede his or her capacity to evaluate the credibility of an individual’s response,” the court wrote.

Justice Max Baer wrote an opinion “reluctantly” concurring, advising state authorities that “if it intends to criticize but not indict an individual in a grand jury report to an extent that threatens the individual’s right to reputation, it should provide reasonable notice of any potential accusations and a meaningful opportunity to respond thereto.” Chief Justice Ronald Saylor wrote a dissenting opinion stressing that the supervising judge of the grand jury should have heard arguments for or against releasing the material in the report and made the final determination.

The 11 clerics had wanted a chance to respond including but not limited to a new evidentiary hearing, an opportunity to review the decades of Archdiocesan records the grand jury perused, and possibly even a chance to cross-examine witnesses.

Shapiro argued against the court, saying that the priests should be named publicly — and also urging the Archdioceses to themselves out the anonymous clerics.

“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,” he said. “While this order bars me from releasing the names of these 11 petitioners, nothing in this Order prevents the Dioceses from sharing the shielded names with their parishioners and the public. I call on the bishops to do so immediately, consistent with their recent calls for transparency.”

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