Lift Stay On Grand Jury Report

July 8, 2018 GMT

The Catholic Church has suffered a crisis of confidence over the last two decades not only because of sexual abuse of children by some priests, but even more so because of the hierarchy’s coverup that placed the church’s prerogatives above victims’ rights. Now, by issuing a stay against public release of an exhaustive grand jury report on the abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses including Scranton, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania risks extending that crisis of confidence to itself. State Attorney General Josh Shapiro had planned to release the report in late June. The grand jury’s supervising judge, Norman Krumenacker of Cambria County, already had rejected delaying the report’s release or redacting certain information. He has said that the report describes allegations of child sexual abuse, repeated failures to report it, endangering the welfare of children and obstruction of justice not only by many people associated with the church, but by some local public officials and community leaders. Shapiro said last week that the report pertains to hundreds of victims. Bishops of the six dioceses — Scranton, Allentown, Harrisburg, Erie, Pittsburgh and Greensburg — had agreed not to attempt to block the report’s public release. But multiple people named in the report petitioned the Supreme Court to block the release. It not only agreed but shielded their identities and their claims from public disclosure. The court issued a brief opinion saying that the petitioners claim that release of the report would violate their reputational rights under the state constitution and a due process right to appear before the grand jury. To accept those arguments the court would have to upend standard operating practice for state grand juries. As Shapiro noted, the people named were given the unrestricted opportunity to attach their responses to the report. He urged the court to reject the objectors’ effort to reshape the report “in accordance with their preferred view of the facts.” To his credit, Shapiro rejected a proposal to allow release with redactions of challenged sections. That, he rightly concluded, “would only further undermine confidence in the process, and could suggest the appearance of preferential treatment of particular citizens.” That’s the risk that the court runs by entertaining redaction or a permanent stay against the release of the report. It should lift the stay and, finally, lift the shroud of secrecy that has allowed the abuse to fester for so long.