PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Lawyers for nearly two dozen Pennsylvania clergy argued before the state Supreme Court on Wednesday that their clients’ names should continue to be withheld from a sweeping grand jury report on child sexual abuse in six of Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses.
A version of the report, which identified over 300 priests alleged to have engaged in sexual abuse over the last 70 years, was released in August with about two dozen names redacted. The state attorney general’s office has argued that the full report — with the names of those accused clergy — should be released to the public.
The report, which has drawn national attention, has spurred other states to try to emulate the process to investigate and make public the allegations against clergy members. The Kentucky attorney general endorsed legislation this week that would allow him to use a special grand jury that could lead to a similar investigation.
At Wednesday’s hearing in Philadelphia, the court asked the lawyers to address whether there was a remedy that could be granted to those priests who say they weren’t given an adequate chance to appear before the grand jury and address the accusations against them.
Justice David Wecht asked if the clergy members’ lawyers would be satisfied leaving the report redacted and seeking help from the state Legislature to revise the laws governing grand juries to allow for better due process.
Justin Danilewitz, one of the lawyers for the clergy, said that was essentially what the priests were asking for, but said he hoped the court would give guidance on those revisions.
“This is a more modest approach … the court pointing out what should be the process, advising the Legislature how the (grand jury) process should be amended.”
Danilewitz said the clergy are asking ideally for an opportunity to hold an evidentiary hearing before the grand jury’s supervisory judge rather than to cross examine a witness in front of the grand jury itself.
Justice Max Baer interjected that the purpose of a grand jury is not the same as a criminal trial.
“You don’t get a trial here,” he said. “Who gets the opportunity at a grand jury to cross examine?”
Ronald Eisenberg with the attorney general’s office argued that the court could remedy the issues raised by the clergy members through its rulemaking ability without infringing on the Legislature’s lawmaking powers. He said the court could deem this an appropriate situation to recall the previous grand jury to hear testimony from these specific clergy members so they could be given ample due process.
He also suggested calling a second grand jury to pick up where this one left off, a common practice for other investigations.
When pressed by Justice Christine Donohue about why the report needed to name the accused, Eisenberg said the state believed allowing these names to remain redacted would set a precedent that would make it difficult to shed light on institutional abuse or corruption in the future.
A news release issued by Attorney General Josh Shapiro later Wednesday hit on the emotional argument for naming the accused clergy.
“Every name of a predator priest left redacted means the silencing of a victim’s voice,” Shapiro wrote.