With an order Friday from the courts, Marylanders are bracing for the release of an investigation into the history of child sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The secrecy around the report could be lifted as soon as next month.
Attorneys had argued over the issue for months in confidential proceedings. Baltimore Circuit Judge Robert Taylor Jr. concluded Friday he would allow redactions and release the report to the public. His 32-page decision brings new insights into the fight that’s happened behind closed doors.
Here’s what to expect from the 456-page investigation.
Will the report name names?
That’s a question on the minds of sexual abuse survivors, their advocates and attorneys. These men and women have pointed to a culture of silence in the church that has allowed abuse to continue and spread.
A majority of the priests named in the report have already been prosecuted or publicly identified. Most of them have died, too. The Archdiocese of Baltimore maintains a list on its website of credibly accused priests. Court records indicate there’s about a dozen living priests identified in the report who have not yet been publicly accused.
In addition, the report includes men and women who are accused of covering up abuse, silencing victims, transferring or accepting the priests or otherwise enabling the abuse. The judge wrote that about 200 people in the report have not been publicly identified.
The judge ordered the Maryland Attorney General’s Office to compile a list of these “affected individuals” and present their names to the archdiocese. The archdiocese is ordered to review the list and present the names to the courts. Both sides have until March 13 to assemble and present this list. Next, the court will decide whether to approve the list.
Then the attorney general’s office will “undertake a good-faith effort” to notify everyone on the list. These people will have 15 days to respond if they wish to participate. If so, they will be permitted to see the portions of the report with their names and given a chance to argue whether they should be redacted.
Will abusive priests and their enablers face criminal charges?
Don’t expect the report to lead to many arrests — or any at all.
With Friday’s order, the judge disclosed that the attorney general’s office was not pursuing criminal charges as a result of the investigation. The judge accepted the office at its word there, and he noted that presently no criminal indictments are sought by local prosecutors. In addition, the judge denied a request from survivors that the matter be referred to another grand jury for further investigation.
Still, the nearly four-year investigation resulted in one criminal case. Former Mount Saint Joseph wrestling coach Neil Adleberg is scheduled for trial in June on six counts including charges of sexual abuse of a minor, solicitation of a minor and second-degree rape.
When will the report be released?
In his order Friday, Taylor acknowledged that the passage of time, changes to the laws and the cover-up within the archdiocese have helped abusers avoid criminal prosecution.
“The only form of justice that may now be available is a public reckoning,” he wrote.
The judge order the release in two stages. First, a redacted version of the nearly 500-page report will be released as soon as the judge approves the list of “affected individuals.” The judge ordered that list be provided to the court no later than March 13.
The court will then hear arguments about whether the redactions should be lifted for a second release. Taylor wrote that he may hold another hearing on the matter. It’s unclear when a version without redactions would be made public.
What does all this mean for lawsuit reform in Annapolis?
Taylor recognized the need for expediency in his order, writing that legislators in Annapolis are now considering bills to give adult survivors of child sexual abuse new opportunities to sue the institutions complicit in these crimes. Draft versions of the legislation apply not just to the church, but to any public or private institution.
Attorney Robert Jenner, who represents survivors, said he’s hopeful the report comes out in time for legislators to vote. The General Assembly sessions ends April 10.
“We’re thrilled that Judge Taylor made a decision to release the report so that the Maryland Legislature can fully appreciate the extent and magnitude of the harm done to our clients and to the survivors throughout Maryland,” Jenner said.
Under Maryland law, survivors can generally sue only until the age of 38 for abuse that happened when they were children. Six years ago, lawmakers passed a measure that granted the church and other institutions immunity to most lawsuits from men and women older than 38. Legislators have discussed repealing that immunity for years, but they have come up short when faced with questions about whether such a repeal would withstand a challenge in the courts.
Attorney General Anthony Brown submitted a letter to them this week in which he wrote that he could defend “in good faith” the move by the legislature if they choose to repeal the immunity. It was the strongest words yet that such a repeal could be lawful under the Maryland Constitution.