The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked the expected release of a massive report examining sexual abuse and misconduct by priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses, including Allentown.
The state’s high court issued an order barring Cambria County Judge Norman Krumenacker, who supervised the grand jury that heard testimony over two years, and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro from releasing the report until further order.
The court’s order does not indicate who sought to block release of the report but it indicates the court received more than one application for a stay.
Matt Kerr, spokesman for the Allentown Diocese, said the diocese was not one of the petitioners that moved to block the report.
“We have not and will not,” he said.
The Harrisburg Diocese also did not move to block the report, spokesman Mike Barley said. The Scranton Diocese said it did not request the stay and would not.
Greensburg Diocese’s spokesman said neither the diocese nor Bishop Edward C. Malesic filed the court postponement request.
A spokesman for the Pittsburgh Diocese said, “Neither the Diocese of Pittsburgh nor Bishop David Zubik have motions pending before the Supreme Court to block the release of the report.”
The Erie Diocese could not be reached.
Shapiro had said he would speak publicly on the investigation by the end of June, after bishops in the six dioceses pledged not to file legal challenges blocking release of the report.
In a statement Wednesday, Shapiro said, “My legal team and I will continue fighting tirelessly to make sure the victims of this abuse are able to tell their stories and the findings of this investigation are made public to the people of Pennsylvania.”
The state law outlining jury rules only allows a prosecutor’s office to appeal a judge’s order to keep a grand jury report under wraps. It also says a judge may allow someone mentioned in a grand jury report but not charged to file a rebuttal of the findings. But it is mute on whether action can be taken to block a report’s publication.
Still, lawyers can and do file appeals with the presiding grand jury judge and with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to shut down grand jury investigations.
Attorney Richard Serbin, who has represented numerous people in cases alleging sexual abuse by priests for around 30 years, said he was shocked and disappointed by the order.
“The issue of child sex abuse that has gone on for decades within the church needs to be exposed and I’m disappointed in any proceeding or maneuver that delays that,” he said.
Serbin said he knows that evidence against priests that previously had not been disclosed publicly was presented to the grand jury.
After the court issued its order, state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, was distraught and angry, calling the decision “a punch in the gut.” Rozzi, who testified before the grand jury, has spoken publicly, often in graphic detail, about the priest who raped him growing up in Reading. Last week, he held a news conference saying the release of the grand jury report could spur the Legislature to pass a new bill enhancing the legal rights of adults who experienced child sex abuse.
On Wednesday afternoon, Rozzi sat in his office, his face in his hands, with a scrapbook of news clippings about child sex abuse issues and a hastily written speech before him. He called the court order a “travesty of justice and an insult to all victims of childhood sex abuse, not just Catholic victims.”
He questioned why the Supreme Court would get involved in the release of the grand jury report when state law does not permit that and the high court never issued a stay in any other grand jury report involving child sex abuse and cover-ups. Rozzi added he hoped the court was not trying to protect religious figures and “public officials and community leaders” whom Krumenacker hinted would be identified in his prior order rejecting legal requests to postpone publication.
“This is absolutely devastating to many victims,” Rozzi said. “I understand the Supreme Court is going to review legal challenges. So this is not it. We have an opportunity for this report still to still be released.”
Several people who testified and advocacy groups say the report’s findings could be devastating to the church, not only because of the abuse but also alleged efforts to cover it up.
“It’ll be blistering,” said James Faluszczak, who says he was abused as a teenager by Monsignor Daniel J. Martin, an Erie priest who died in 2006.
Court records, news accounts and data compiled by advocacy groups show that more than two dozen priests in the Allentown Diocese or serving the Lehigh Valley outside of diocesan administration have been accused of sexual misconduct going back to the 1960s.
The diocesan administration led by Bishop Alfred Schlert — who became bishop after the grand jury was empaneled — said it cooperated fully with investigators.
“We welcome the release of the report,” the diocese said in a statement this month. “This story needs to be told, so that we can learn from the report and continue to improve protections for children.”
Along with Allentown, the investigation covers the Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses. Last weekend, Scranton Bishop Joseph C. Bambera offered his “deepest apologies to the victims of such abuse, to their families, to the faithful of our church and to everyone impacted by the behaviors described in this report.”
The investigation began in 2016 after another grand jury looking at the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese found at least 50 priests or religious leaders had sexually abused hundreds of minors. The report also found many of the allegations were not reported to law enforcement, but instead were covered up by bishops for decades. Grand juries looking into complaints in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia reported similarly explosive findings. The forthcoming report would cover the remaining dioceses in Pennsylvania.
More than 250,000 Catholics are in the Allentown Diocese. Across Pennsylvania, 3.2 million people are Catholic, according to the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.
PREVIOUS GRAND JURIES
Grand juries also investigated allegations in the state’s other two dioceses.
2005: Philadelphia grand jury investigates allegations against more than 60 priests, finding abusive priests were moved around and not reported to police.
2011: Phildelphia’s second grand jury focused on the church’s practices since 2005, finding many credibly accused priests remained active; charges are filed against three priests, a teacher and Monsignor William Lynn, who was convicted of recklessly endangering children for not removing an abusive priest. His conviction was overturned, then reinstated and he awaits retrial.
2016: A statewide grand jury into the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese uncovers allegations against more than 50 priests and an effort to keep the complaints secret.
Emily Opilo and the Scranton Times-Tribune contributed to this story.
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s highest court on Wednesday held up the release of a grand jury report into the handling of sexual abuse claims involving six Roman Catholic dioceses and local officials, days before it was expected to be made public.
The two-paragraph order did not explain the reasons but said nothing in the court file except the new order is available for public inspection.
The report is expected to reveal details of widespread abuse and efforts to conceal and protect abusive priests.
The court told the grand jury supervisory judge and the state attorney general’s office they may not release the findings until the court gives its permission.
Victim advocates have said the report is expected to be the largest and most exhaustive by a U.S. state.
The two-year investigation covered six of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses, churches with some 1.7 million members.
Before the latest order, state prosecutors had said they were likely to release it by the end of next week.
“My legal team and I will continue fighting tirelessly to make sure the victims of this abuse are able to tell their stories and the findings of this investigation are made public to the people of Pennsylvania,” said state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Judge Norman Krumenacker, based in Cambria County, earlier this month made public his decision to reject an effort to delay the release of the report or let those named in it challenge the details before it’s made public.