Stating that interests including transparency, justice and accountability outweighed secrecy, a judge has authorized the Maryland attorney general to remove the redactions of all but three names in a report detailing decades of sexual abuse and cover-ups within the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
The identities of 46 people — including five archdiocesan leaders and 10 alleged abusers — were blacked out in the report. Circuit Judge Robert K Taylor held hearings on the redactions on July 5 and 6.
Taylor detailed his decision to approve the release of 43 out of the 46 names in an opinion and order dated on Aug. 16. The Maryland Judiciary on Tuesday released the decision.
“The court’s order enables my office to continue to lift the veil of secrecy over decades of horrifying abuse suffered by the survivors,” Attorney General Anthony Brown said in a statement.
Here are four takeaways from the opinion:
1. Why did the judge to approve lifting most of the redactions?
In the opinion, Taylor wrote that the attorney general has demonstrated that there is a particularized need to breach the general rule of grand jury secrecy and name individuals.
“The Report details a crisis at least seven decades in the making, with hundreds of individual victims, scores of alleged perpetrators, and an institutional hierarchy that was at best unable and at worst unwilling to undertake effective responses to allegations of abuse for most of the 20th century,” Taylor said. “The crisis was the result of thousands of discrete choices and actions — or inactions — on the part of hundreds of individuals.”
“There is a strong public policy interest in bringing these choices and actions into public view,” he added.
Taylor said there is an interest in exposing what happened to ensure that it does not take place again. The “interests of transparency, justice, accountability, future legislation and legal action, and sound public policy, all outweigh the objections made to the request,” he said.
Without including names, Taylor said, it is impossible to fully understand the scope of what’s detailed in the report. He cautioned that an individual being included in the document is “not any sort of judicial determination that this person did anything wrong.”
2. Whose names will be released, and whose will remain redacted?
Taylor authorized the attorney general to identify the five archdiocesan leaders whose names were redacted in the report as well as nine out of the 10 alleged abusers.
The Baltimore Banner and Baltimore Sun previously identified them:
- Official A: The Most Rev. J. Bruce Jarboe
- Official B: The Most Rev. Richard Woy
- Official C: W. Francis Malooly, retired bishop of the Diocese of Wilmington
- Official D: The Most Rev. George B. Moeller
- Official E: The Most Rev. G. Michael Schleupner
- No. 147: Frank T. Cimino Jr.
- No. 148: The Rev. Joseph G. Fiorentino
- No. 149: Catherine A. Hasson
- No. 150: The Rev. Thomas Hudson
- No. 151: The Rev. John Peter Krzyzanski
- No. 152: The Rev. Samuel Lupico
- No. 153: Ronald Nicholls
- No. 155: The Rev. Joseph O’Meara
- No. 156: Michael V. Scriber
But Taylor said that the attorney general’s office and the archdiocese have been unable to locate No. 154, whom The Sun identified as the Rev. Joseph F. O’Brien. He denied the allegations against him.
If the attorney general’s office properly notifies him, Taylor said, it can renew its motion to unredact his name.
Taylor also approved the release of 29 out of 31 names of people who are not accused of committing abuse.
The attorney general’s office, he said, agreed to edit the report to avoid directly mentioning the name of the person on Page 160.
Meanwhile, Taylor said, releasing the name of the individual on Page 340 does nothing to advance the public understanding of the allegations against the Rev. Adrian Poletti. The disclosure of the name creates a risk of identifying a woman reported that she was sexually abused, Taylor said.
3. Judge cautions against ‘undifferentiated fury’ toward the Catholic Church
Taylor said it was difficult to distinguish between the actions of organizations and individuals in the case. He said it’s easy for outsiders to “criticize the acts of a stranger, undertaken decades earlier, who was at the time simply doing what he felt the law and his vocation required.”
The information that’s been released, he said, already “triggered a rush to judgment.”
Taylor said people having sympathy for the survivors and feeling horror at the violence, abuse and betrayal described in the report is an “instinctive and entirely natural response.”
“And while the anger and pain of the victims and their families is entirely justified, an undifferentiated fury aimed at the Church and all of the people in the Report is not,” Taylor said.
“Some of the people in the Report were simply making difficult decisions under difficult circumstances,” he added. “None of us have led such blameless lives as to be beyond all criticism. But guilt-by-association is never fair.”
At one point, Taylor said, “To be clear: the Archdiocese did not sexually exploit children. Individuals did. The Archdiocese did not fail to report abuse. Individuals did. The Archdiocese did not transfer alleged abusers to positions where they could abuse again. Individuals did.”
The collective effect of these actions, he said, “led to the sexual abuse and exploitation of an uncountable number of children and young adults for the better part of the 20th century.”
4. What happens next?
The Maryland Office of the Attorney General cannot release the new version of the report, unless otherwise directed, before Sept. 26.
Kurt Wolfgang, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center, who represents two survivors, Jean Hargadon Wehner and Teresa Lancaster, said he anticipates some people will appeal the decision.
If that happens, Wolfgang said, he expects that their names will continue to be shielded during the appellate process. He said he hopes that the Maryland Supreme Court will take up the case to speed up a decision.