A public reckoning might be the only form of justice available to hundreds of people who reported that they are survivors of sexual abuse and torture, a Baltimore judge wrote last month when he ordered the release of a 456-page grand jury report into the Catholic Church.
But a court battle over whether to permanently redact the names of some in the Archdiocese of Baltimore who are accused of committing or enabling abuse could leave the city short of that reckoning.
Circuit Judge Robert K. Taylor Jr. has approved a plan for the Maryland Attorney General’s Office to remove the names, titles or other identifying information of 60 people before the report comes out. He also directed prosecutors to redact the names of another 37 people and notify them about their inclusion in the document. They will then be allowed to review the parts of the report about themselves and respond in court.
A look at how similar investigations played out in other states shows this could be a pivotal moment.
Here’s what happened elsewhere:
‘The right of due process’ in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, there were months of litigation over the release of an almost 900-page statewide investigating grand jury report into sexual abuse and its coverup within six of the eight dioceses in the state and redactions in 2018.
So there are some similarities to what’s happened so far in Maryland.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court took up the dispute and eventually ordered the release of an interim version of the report with some names blacked out.
The justices later held in a 6-1 decision that the names of 11 clergy who brought challenges would remain permanently obscured. Then-Associate Justice Debra Todd wrote for the majority that was the only due process remedy available to protect the named individuals’ constitutional right to reputation.
“We acknowledge that this outcome may be unsatisfying to the public and to the victims of the abuse detailed in the report,” Todd said. “While we understand and empathize with these perspectives, constitutional rights are of the highest order, and even alleged sexual abusers, or those abetting them, are guaranteed by our Commonwealth’s Constitution the right of due process.”
In a statement, then-Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the decision “allows predator priests to remain in the shadows and permits the Church to continue concealing their identities.” He was elected governor in 2022.
A task force formed to examine the grand jury system in Pennsylvania recommended abolishing the ability to issue reports in 2019.
In Missouri, ‘we still want the names’
In a grand jury report that the Missouri Attorney General’s Office released in 2019, investigators said they would release the names of accused clergy “after they have been given a full and fair opportunity to present evidence that they did not commit the acts detailed in the report.”
A process was never detailed and names were never revealed beyond a limited list the church already publicly reported or uncovered through lawsuits, said David Clohessy, a spokesperson for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
“We still want the names,” he said. “Every single time a name of a proven or admitted or credibly accused child molester is released, it makes children safer.”
The investigation began in 2018 in St. Louis at the request of then-Attorney General Josh Hawley, who was responding to a barrage of lawsuits and protests. The inquiry relied almost entirely on cooperation from the church, said Rebecca Randles, an attorney representing hundreds of survivors.
Randles had been able to make some names public over the years by filing lawsuits before the statute of limitations expired. She knew the list of names released by the church was incomplete based in part on these cases.
But with the expiration of those statutes of limitations and with members of the clergy dying, she’s been able to bring only a few more lawsuits since the report was released. And there’s not been much more action in terms of criminal cases.
One noted exception was Bishop Robert Finn, who was convicted in 2012 on a misdemeanor charge for failing to intervene after he was warned about a priest’s behavior with children.
Madeline Sieren, a spokesperson for the office of the current Missouri attorney general, Andrew Bailey, said she couldn’t speak about how a previous administration handled the report.
As for any new action in the investigation? “We do not have a comment at this time about any steps moving forward,” Sieren said.
‘The country’s darkest corners’
In other places, advocates and lawyers also have faced hurdles in learning the names of those credibly accused of abuse if they were not revealed within these reports, said Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota-based attorney who represents survivors in multiple states.
With lawsuits barred in many states because they’re past the statutes of limitations, Anderson said it’s key to have names included in reports in the first place.
That’s what happened in the first of seven reports released in Michigan in October by the attorney general, Dana Nessel.
The move was critical, she said, though the statute of limitations and deaths of clergy would prevent many prosecutions.
“We hope this investigation provides a voice to those who have suffered in silence for so long and shines a light on those alleged offenders who have escaped punishment for their crimes by hiding in the shadows,” Nessel said in a statement when the report was released last year.
Advocates say New Jersey has also pledged to publish the names of the credibly accused in an upcoming report, conducted by a task force formed by the attorney general.
Kansas is among those that did not include names in a report by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation released in January. Criminal and civil statutes of limitations have expired in most cases. However, Randles, who handles cases in Missouri and Kansas, said survivors have renewed hope since the legislature is considering a bill to remove strict limitations, which means that many names could still become public.
Anderson said public pressure is essential to change the law, which legislators in Maryland also are considering. He said now that authorities have indicated they will redact some names in the forthcoming report, the courts may be the only avenue for survivors.
“Survivors in Maryland haven’t been able to use the courts to bring a suit and reveal the names because of the statute of limitations,” he said. “It’s time for a reckoning. Maryland has been among the country’s darkest corners.”