Shapiro Suggests Priest Sex Abuse Grand Jury Could Be Recalled
The grand jury that spent two years investigating child sex abuse in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses could be recalled to hear from clergy whose names have been blacked out in the panel’s report, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in court papers.
In the brief filed Tuesday evening, Shapiro said people named in the grand jury report but not criminally charged, can have their argument to remain anonymous heard if the grand jury reconvenes.
Pennsylvania law does not address whether a grand jury can reconvene, Shapiro noted, so the state Supreme Court can “interpret the statute to afford the necessary process.”
Another alternative would be to call a new grand jury to hear the petitioners’ arguments, the brief said.
“While a new grand jury would have to be brought up to speed on the details of the petitioners’ cases, that is not a complicated process, and there is no legal impediment to such an approach,” the brief said. The process could be overseen by a supervising judge, it said. The process of hearing testimony and allowing objectors to reply could be a path for future grand juries to follow, it said.
Lawyers representing more than a dozen clergy members whose names were redacted in the grand jury report released on Aug. 14 asked the state Supreme Court to adopt the redacted interim version, partly because of statements Shapiro made to the media “berating petitioners for seeking to protect their constitutional right to reputation.”
Shapiro’s office released the grand jury report after a two-year investigation into the sexual abuse of children by 301 priests in six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses.
After sealing the report for weeks as it considered arguments to redact names, the court agreed to conceal for the time being the names of priests who filed objections. Oral arguments are scheduled next Wednesday to determine whether those redactions should be lifted.
If not for the court’s decision to allow for the temporary redaction of names, the lawyers said, “the constitutional consequences for petitioners would have been calamitous.”
The lawyers argued that no “meaningful due process is possible” for their clients, given that the priests had no opportunity to present evidence to the grand jury, that many of the allegations are old and involve witnesses who now are dead and that the purpose of the report was to “shame” those named.
By identifying those accused as “predator priests,” the lawyers contend, the report stigmatizes them as sex offenders though many have not been convicted of a crime.
Shapiro’s office, the filing states, made “incurable errors” as it “orchestrated every step of this process, from the investigation to the choreographed media campaign that followed. ... Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back together again.”
In his brief, Shapiro said the court system is competent enough to protect individuals’ rights in a case closely followed by the news media.
“In recent years alone the courts have successfully handled legal actions involving both a sitting attorney general and a world-famous entertainer — and those were (jury trials), conducted in the full public glare of hour-by-hour press coverage,” it said, referring to former Attorney General Kathleen Kane and disgraced television star Bill Cosby.
Shapiro also said mistakes in the report that the lawyers referenced amounted to a “handful” of typing errors such as transposing numbers.
In their earlier filing and in previous motions, lawyers for priests seeking to keep their names concealed seized on the state constitution’s guarantee of secure reputations.
In the court’s July 27 decision that held off the grand jury report’s release, Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor acknowledged that guarantee, writing, “The right of citizens to security in their reputations is not some lesser-order precept. Rather, in Pennsylvania it is a fundamental constitutional entitlement.”
“But Pennsylvania has also championed a vigorous grand jury reporting system, which enlists citizens as guardians — as spotters — where other institutions may fail,” the attorney general’s brief said. “That is what happened here. The grand jury saw something: something that, in the past, other agencies of government didn’t want to look at, or talk about. ... That is why the commonwealth believes the grand jury reporting system must be preserved: it gives people a needed check on the power of entrenched institutions.”