Legal arguments will continue behind closed doors about whether a Baltimore judge should release a 456-page investigation into child sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Anthony Vittoria ordered the case sealed on Friday. His order means all hearings will be closed to the public and all legal motions will be confidential.
“No party is permitted to share any filing or communication,” Vittoria wrote.
He went further and directed the attorneys to deliver their filings to his chambers and not submit them to the clerk’s office.
The ruling marks a win for attorneys Gregg Bernstein and William Murphy, who wanted the proceedings to be secret. The two attorneys represent some people named in the report, but not accused of sexual abuse. These people have not been publicly identified.
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office tried to keep the continued litigation open to the public.
“This case involves the sexual abuse of children and an institution’s attempt to cover-up that abuse. Baldly claiming an interest in keeping these proceedings secret is insufficient,” Assistant Attorney General Carrie Williams wrote the judge last month.
At issue is a nearly four-year investigation into the history of child sexual abuses within the Catholic church of Baltimore. Investigators told the courts they identified 158 priests, most of them already known, within the archdiocese accused of the “sexual abuse” and “physical torture” of more than 600 children and young adults in the past 80 years.
The attorney general’s office asked the courts last month to release of the full report. The investigation was conducted through a grand jury, and state law keeps grand jury materials confidential without a court order.
The church could agree to release the report — or argue to keep it secret.
Survivors of sexual abuse, their advocates and attorneys have watched closely the church’s position. First, the archdiocese issued a statement that was open to interpretation, saying it would not oppose the release of a report that it considers fair and accurate. The caveat raised more questions.
Four days later, the archdiocese issued another statement, explaining that church leaders had “deep disagreements” with the report, but they would take no action to block its release.
“We recognize that efforts on the part of the Archdiocese to challenge errors and mischaracterizations through legal processes will likely be viewed as an attempt to conceal past failures,” they wrote.
The report documents a “pervasive” history of sexual abuse, as well as the cover-up and “complicit silence” by church leaders, the attorney general’s office wrote. Investigators found 115 of the accused priests were prosecuted or previously identified by the archdiocese. The church has maintained a public list of accused priests since 2002.
Investigators found 43 of the accused priests have not yet been publicly identified, though 30 of them have died. That leaves 13 living priests who have not been previously accused of sexual abuse. Williams told the courts that the attorney general’s office has redacted those 13 names from the report. The redactions are intended to avoid further legal arguments that could tie up the release of the report.
In Pennsylvania, 11 priests accused of sexual abuse successfully argued to the state’s highest court that their names should be redacted from a similar report in 2018. The court agreed, finding the redactions necessary to protect their legal rights of due process.
Last week, two new lawyers joined the case as representatives of survivors Jean Hargadon Wehner and Teresa Lancaster, women who say they were raped and sexually assaulted in the 1960s and 1970s by the Rev. A. Joseph Maskell. He worked as a chaplain and counselor at the now-shuttered Archbishop Keough High School in Southwest Baltimore.
The women were featured in the Netflix documentary series “The Keepers.” Their attorneys also urged the courts to release the report. They continued that argument with a new pleading on Friday, writing that the attorney general’s office has waived confidentiality by sharing the full report last month with the archdiocese.
Meanwhile, the archdiocese has announced that the church would pay for the two lawyers, Bernstein and Murphy, representing some people named in the report.
Archdiocese spokesman Christian Kendzierski explained that these people want a chance to tell the courts what they believe to be omissions or errors in the report. He said the the church supports them in that effort.
Survivors of priest sexual abuse have sharply criticized the archdiocese for what they see as the hypocrisy: publicly supporting the release of the report, while paying for lawyers who are trying to keep the record secret.
On Friday, Archbishop William Lori addressed the matter in a video message.
“They deserve to be heard by the court, and we will pay their legal fees to ensure they are heard,” he said. “This does not mean the Archdiocese will in any way seek to keep the report from being made public, as some have suggested.”