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Groups want complete report released detailing alleged Catholic sex abuse in Pennsylvania

August 20, 2018
Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, in Greensburg, on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018.
Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, in Greensburg, on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018.

Just as an edited grand jury report is set to be released that details decades of alleged sexual abuse in six Catholic dioceses across Southwestern Pennsylvania and the state, two advocacy groups have petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to release the complete document.

On the other side of the aisle, the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers joined about two dozen members of the clergy who are identified in the report but not charged with crimes who oppose having their names included. They say that would violate their rights of reputation and due process of law to defend themselves.

University of Pennsylvania law professor Marci Hamilton, founder of Child USA, and Terry McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org, however, argued the public safety interests of children trump the rights of the clergy wanting their names stricken.

“Even if they have a due process right, if the public has a compelling interest that right comes first. The public definitely has a compelling interest in learning the identities of child predators who have not been identified in the public yet,” Hamilton said.

The law professor, who has followed child sex abuse investigations and grand juries in Pennsylvania and elsewhere across the country, said the legal battle over the report is unprecedented.

The state Supreme Court in September will hear arguments on the matter. Last month, justices agreed to permit the release of an edited copy of the 900-page grand jury report no later than Tuesday.

The high court could rule later on whether those names must remain blacked out or be released.

Portions of the report that have been made public through various court filings said the panel that heard testimony from abuse survivors and reviewed hundreds of thousands of pages of documents from church archives named more than 300 “predator priests” in the dioceses of Greensburg, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, Scranton and Harrisburg.

It went on to say that church officials across the state prioritized the welfare of the institution and the need to avoid scandal above the welfare of victims.

Many of the incidents detailed in the investigation fell outside Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations, which bars criminal charges after a victim’s 50th birthday and limits civil suits to a victim’s 30th birthday, so the panel decided to name names.

A portion of the report details that decision.

“We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated,” the grand jury wrote. “This report is our only records. We are going to name their names and describe what they did -- both the sex offenders and those who concealed them. We are going to shine a light on their conduct, because that is what the victims deserve.”

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks County, testified before the grand jury about his sexual abuse at the hands of a priest. He said the ongoing battle over the report is helping his push to eliminate the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse and add a two-year window for victims who were previously timed out of the legal system to file suit.

He plans to introduce an amendment to a bill now pending in the House when he returns to Harrisburg on Sept. 13.

“All we have to do is run it and put it on the floor. I think we have the votes to pass it,” he said. “It will be up to the Senate then to act. I think we’re at the breaking point, that Pennsylvania is the epicenter of children sexual abuse and legislators know they have to stand with the victims or the perpetrators.”

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