The Maryland Attorney General’s Office has completed a multiyear investigation into sex abuse by Catholic clergy in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, identifying more than 150 priests who have been credibly accused of abuse and estimating there have been more than 600 victims.
Attorney General Brian Frosh is seeking court approval to release the 456-page report.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions to catch you up:
What is the report?
The existence of an investigation first came to light in 2018 when the Archbishop William Lori acknowledged that Attorney General Brian Frosh had begun to look into sex abuse by priests. The attorney general’s office maintains a policy of not commenting on ongoing investigations and has said nothing since the investigation began, but word began to leak out last week after his office began contacting victims to tell them the report was nearing completion.
Frosh’s office announced Thursday that the report was complete, and he wanted to release it publicly.
The report documents 80 years of child sexual abuse and the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s response — or lack of response — to the abuse, according to a court filing from Frosh that seeks approval to release the report.
In the court filing, Frosh outlines several egregious examples of the church taking years to take any actions to stop the abuse. One parish, for example, was assigned 11 priests accused of abuse over the course of 40 years.
“Time and again, the Archdiocese chose the abuser over the abused, the powerful over the weak, and the adult over the child. Hundreds of Marylanders have suffered mentally and physically for decades because of the Archdiocese’s decisions,” Frosh wrote in the court filing.
Maryland, a state founded by Catholics, still has a large Catholic population and many parishes.
What happens next?
Frosh filed a request in Baltimore City Circuit Court seeing approval to release the report.
This is necessary because the report relies on information it obtained from the Archdiocese of Baltimore through the grand jury process. State law requires a judge to approve the release of grand jury materials.
A judge could order portions of the report to be redacted, and it’s unknown how long it will take to decide the matter.
Frosh pressed the court for quick action.
“The secrecy must end,” Frosh wrote. “It is time to shine a bright light on the entirety of the sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Archdiocese’s response to that abuse. Disclosure is necessary to protect the children of Maryland going forward and to acknowledge and honor the hundreds of victims who suffered at the hands of perpetrators and the Archdiocese.”
What did a similar report on clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania reveal?
A Pennsylvania grand jury released a report in 2018, detailing how the Roman Catholic Church in six dioceses across the state covered up clergy sex abuse. “We subpoenaed, and reviewed, half a million pages of internal diocesan documents. They contained credible allegations against over three hundred predator priests. Over one thousand child victims were identifiable, from the church’s own records. We believe that the real number — of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward — is in the thousands,” the report read.
That report also accused Cardinal William Keeler of reassigning priests he knew had abused children dating back to when he served as bishop of Harrisburg. After Keeler became the archbishop of Baltimore, he allowed Father Arthur Long, a Harrisburg priest, to transfer to the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Long had been accused of inappropriate behavior in 1991 and 1992 while he was in Baltimore.
Soon after the report was released, the Archdiocese of Baltimore canceled plans to name a new pre-K to 8 Baltimore Catholic school scheduled to be opened in 2020 after Keeler due to his ties with Long. Keeler died in 2017.
Will the report cover abuse that took place at Archbishop Keough High School, documented in the Netflix series “The Keepers”?
In 2017, Netflix released a documentary series investigating sexual abuse allegations in the 1960s and 1970s at Archbishop Keough High School, an all girls, private high school on Caton Avenue, which later became Seton Keough High School.
The series, “The Keepers,” followed two women who dig into the murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik, who taught at the school, and suggests that she could have been killed because she was about to report sexual abuse of students. The documentary also raises questions about whether some of Baltimore’s institutions, including city leaders and the police department, helped cover up Cesnik’s murder and the abuse allegations.
Some believe Cesnik was going to identify Rev. A Joseph Maskell, who was accused of sexually abusing multiple people. In 2018, two of Maskell’s accusers called for the release of archdiocese records related to Maskell. The Catholic Church declined to release Maskell’s personnel file publicly, saying it was against church rules.
One question that may be answered after the release of the attorney general’s investigation is whether the church gave investigators access to Maskell’s file. The archdiocese said Thursday it has cooperated fully with the attorney general, providing more than 100,000 pages of material, including files related to Maskell.
Due to declining enrollment and other factors, the school was closed by the Catholic Church in June 2017, shortly after the documentary was released.
Here is also a list of accused priests the archdiocese began posting in 2002 and some background: https://www.archbalt.org/child-and-youth-protection/priests-and-brothers-accused-of-abuse/
What are the possible legal ramifications for past abuse of children?
In criminal court, Maryland has no statute of limitations on certain felonies, including rape and child abuse. But crimes that took place years ago are often difficult to prove in court when there’s no physical evidence and witnesses have died or have poor memory.
For civil lawsuits in Maryland, the law was changed in 2017 to allow a person who was abused as a child to file a lawsuit up until they reach age 38 or within three years of the perpetrator being convicted in criminal court. The previous limit was age 25.
When a child abuse victim is between the age of 25 and 38, in order to win a lawsuit against a person or institution that employed or supervised the abuser, the victim must prove gross negligence.
The 2017 law also included a legal provision called a “statute of repose” that some experts say further protects churches and institutions from lawsuits.
Lawmakers have been unsuccessful in trying to remove the statute of repose, which some lawmakers have said was not their intention in 2017. Lawmakers have also considered, but not approved, fully lifting the age limit for lawsuits and creating a “lookback window” to allow people who were previously barred from suing to be able to do so.
Opponents of expanding eligibility to file lawsuits claim that it could lead to a flood of litigation that would financially cripple churches, schools and other institutions that employed or supervised abusers.
Why has the report taken so long to be released?
It is unclear why the investigation has taken so long, but some of the victims have worried that Frosh’s office did not have enough resources or people assigned to complete a complex look at abuse cases over decades. Until Thursday, Frosh’s office had not released any information about the investigation since it began.
What is the Catholic Church’s history in Maryland?
Maryland was established as a refuge for Catholics in the early 1600s, and the first Catholic bishop in America was John Carroll, a Jesuit priest in Maryland. The first Roman Catholic cathedral, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was built in Baltimore and opened in 1821.
Baltimore was also home to the first diocese and first archdiocese. The first order of Black nuns and the first Black parish was founded here. The city is home to St. Mary’s Seminary, the nation’s first training ground for priests. In Western Maryland, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary is the second U.S. seminary.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore includes the city and Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Howard and Washington counties. It counts its population at nearly a half million people. However, Protestants now outnumber Catholics in the state, according to the Pew Research Center.
Baltimore Banner reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.