Survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church are demanding the courts release a 456-page report detailing the history of allegations against priests and a resulting cover-up in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the fruits of a nearly four-year state investigation.
The survivors, advocates for sexual abuse victims and their attorneys announced at a news conference Wednesday that they filed a request with the Baltimore Circuit Court in an attempt to bring the confidential report to the public.
“Only when this is out and in the open can healing really begin,” their attorney Robert Jenner said.
The survivors include two women who say they were violently raped by a priest while students at Archbishop Keough High School in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. The survivors decried the fact that church leaders have been able to read the report while they — victims whose testimony helped investigators — have been barred from seeing it.
“I come here today to sit for survivors, including friends who died or committed suicide,” said Donna Von Den Bosch, one of the survivors from Keough. “I bring them to the table also.”
Barbara Hart, an attorney for the survivors and advocates, said it was “manifestly unjust” that the archdiocese — and those accused of wrongdoing by investigators — had reviewed the report while the victims have been unable to read it.
On Friday, a Baltimore judge closed the door on all proceedings related to the report and sealed all arguments over whether the document should be released. Circuit Judge Anthony Vittoria, whose biography says he’s a member of the Catholic Community of South Baltimore, also prohibited attorneys from discussing what’s going on in the case. The judge declined questions about his membership in the parish, citing confidentiality of the case.
The attorneys continue to argue over whether the public should be permitted to see the full report with all the names in it or whether the record should be amended or redacted. The record remains sealed pending a decision from the judge.
“These people were robbed of all sense of who to trust when they were very young children,” said Hart, who has represented survivors of sexual abuse around the country. “We implore the court ... to try to bring compassion to this process.”
Gemma Hoskins, a Keough alumna who was featured in “The Keepers” documentary, said she helped shepherd many survivors to meet with investigators from the Maryland Office of the Attorney General. The investigators interviewed them by phone and Zoom, at Panera Bread coffee shops, in their offices and in their homes, she said.
“The archdiocese never bargained on the hundreds of thousands of people who watched ‘The Keepers,’” who are now closely following the proceedings in Baltimore courts, she said.
Von Den Bosch and Michelle Stanton, another woman represented by the attorneys, say they were raped by Father A. Joseph Maskell, a chaplain and counselor at the now-shuttered Archbishop Keough school. The 2017 Netflix documentary “The Keepers” delved into allegations that Maskell raped, physically and psychologically tortured and sexually trafficked girls who were referred to him for counseling.
The survivors, advocates and attorneys spoke at the Jenner Law firm in Clipper Mill. The Jenner firm, as well as Delaware-based Grant & Eisenhofer, recently signed on to represent the survivors of sexual abuse in their quest to release the report on the investigation. The attorneys announced they are filing a motion to intervene in the case.
The Jenner law firm decided to become involved in the case, in part, attorneys said, because the mother of one of the firm’s employees is a survivor of abuse at Keough.
“Our filing today seeks to ensure the transparency of that report,” Jenner said. “Our clients want a voice in that process.”
In November, the attorney general’s office asked the courts for permission to release the report. In court filings, investigators say the report details a “pervasive” culture of sexual abuse in the Baltimore archdiocese and that 158 priests sexually abused more than 600 children over a span of 80 years.
The attorney general’s office found a pattern of “complicit silence” among church leaders and school administrators, who often transferred priests accused of sexual assault to another parish or school, according to court records. Most of the priests named in the report have already been publicly accused, although few have faced criminal charges or convictions. The Archdiocese of Baltimore has maintained a public list of accused priests since 2002.
The attorney general’s office told the courts they found 43 priests who have never before been publicly accused of sexual abuse. Thirteen of the 43 priests are still living, investigators wrote in court records.
The investigation was conducted through a grand jury, and state law keeps grand jury materials confidential without a judge’s order.
Church leaders have said they have “deep disagreements” with the report. “Including the implication that the Church in Baltimore has not implemented a strong culture of child protection for the past three decades,” they wrote in a Nov. 22 statement from the archdiocese.
The archdiocese, nevertheless, has said it will not oppose the release of the report.
The church has disclosed, however, that it’s paying for two attorneys who are working to keep the litigation secret around the release of the report. Attorneys Gregg Bernstein and William Murphy joined the case as lawyers for some people who are named in the report, but not accused of sexual abuse. Their clients have not been publicly identified.
Archdiocese spokesman Christian Kendzierski has said these individuals want a chance to tell the courts what they believe to be omissions or errors in the report. He said the church supports them in that effort.
David Lorenz, the Maryland director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said at the news conference that his group has also signed on to be represented by Jenner, Hart and the other attorneys. He stressed the importance of holding accountable church officials who failed stop pedophile priests.
“These priests did not act alone,” said Lorenz. “They were enabled and protected by the organization.”
Sexual assault survivors are also raising concerns about Bernstein’s participation in the case. In 2017, Bernstein, the former Baltimore City state’s attorney, met with several advocates for survivors, including Lorenz and Linda Malat Tiburzi, who said she was raped by a lay teacher, John Merzbacher, at the Catholic Community middle school in the 1970s. Dozens of students have accused Merzbacher of rape. He is currently serving four life sentences for his crimes.
At the time, Bernstein said that he was interested in helping spur an attorney general investigation into the sexual abuse in the archdiocese.
“I have reviewed all the materials you have provided me, including the grand jury reports, and I have forwarded the information to my contact at the Attorney General’s Office who I mentioned has expressed some interest in this matter,” he wrote to Tiburzi and others in an email she provided to The Baltimore Banner.
Tiburzi said she’s frustrated now to see Bernstein representing people named in the report and asking the courts to seal the proceedings.
“I’m livid,” she said. “To claim to be trying to help survivors and then turn around and do this. If that man feels any shame, the only thing I can do is shame his ass publicly.”
Bernstein declined to comment.
Reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this article.