A Baltimore judge ordered redactions may be lifted for 43 of 46 names blacked out from the grand jury report on the history of sex abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Blacked out from the April report are the names of five archdiocesan officials accused of failing to take appropriate action when confronted with allegations of abuse, 10 church figures accused of abuse, and 31 others with minor roles in the events of the report, such as a doctor who treated abusive priests.
The Maryland courts released on Tuesday the order from Baltimore Circuit Judge Robert K. Taylor, following months of legal argument by the archdiocese, attorney general’s office and lawyers for the individuals over whether the names should remain hidden. Taylor allowed the attorney general’s office to release an unredacted copy of the report as soon as Sept. 26.
“These names are being released because the key to understanding the Report is understanding that this did not happen because of anything ‘the Archdiocese’ did or did not do. It happened because of the choices made by specific individuals at specific times,” the judge wrote.
Taylor cautioned that his decision should not be considered a finding of guilt upon the individuals.
“Those who interpret either this Order or the Report as tantamount to an indictment of a particular individual are misinterpreting both the Report and the Order,” Taylor wrote. “With regard to the accused abusers, in some instances, the accusations may be false. With regard to the various religious and lay people who are now named (some of whom did not work for the Archdiocese of Baltimore), their conduct may have been entirely proper.”
Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown issued a statement saying his office will issue the unredacted copy as soon as next month.
“The court’s order enables my office to continue to lift the veil of secrecy over decades of horrifying abuse suffered by the survivors,” Brown said.
The archdiocese said it will respect the legal process and judge’s decision.
“We are committed to continuing all of our efforts to keep safe the children in our care, and we recognize that the Attorney General’s report is a reminder of a sad and deeply painful history tied to the tremendous harm caused to innocent children and young people by some ministers of the Church,” according to a statement from the archdiocese. “We ask all to join us in praying for all victim-survivors of abuse and for all who have been affected by the scourge of child sexual abuse.”
Taylor’s order brings a victory for survivors of priest sexual abuse — if only in principle. Investigations by The Baltimore Banner and The Baltimore Sun previously identified the 10 alleged abusers and five church officials.
The Banner published an article in May identifying alleged abuser No. 155 as The Rev. Joseph O’Meara. Three women had accused O’Meara of kissing and touching them in ways that made them feel uncomfortable, according to the report. O’Meara did not respond to messages. One month after the article, the archdiocese added O’Meara to its online list of priests and brothers accused of abuse.
Taylor referenced the news article and the archdiocese list in his decision to lift the redaction on O’Meara’s name. The Banner also identified alleged abuser No. 156 as Michael V. Scriber, who said the allegations are a lie. Taylor ordered Scriber may be identified, too.
“Given that this individual has been tentatively identified (and has apparently confirmed his identity to the press, while denying the accusations), this individual’s interest in continued grand jury secrecy is outweighed by the need for disclosure,” the judge wrote.
Still, Taylor ordered the name of one accused abuser to remain redacted for now. The Sun identified former Catholic priest Joseph F. O’Brien as abuser No. 154 in May. O’Brien denied the allegations, according to the newspaper.
The attorney general’s office and archdiocese have been unable to reach O’Brien and therefore his name would remain redacted, the judge wrote. He noted the attorney general’s office may renew its request to add O’Brien’s name if investigators make contact with him.
David Lorenz, Maryland director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said he was glad that the judge approved lifting a substantial portion of the redactions — especially the names of the archdiocesan officials.
”The reason this is such a blight on society, and especially a blight on the Catholic Church, is the cover-up. The cover-up and the enabling,” Lorenz said. “I’m glad that the five individuals who helped enable and covered up for these guys, these abusers, their names are being put out there.”
Still, Lorenz disagreed with Taylor’s comment that the key to comprehending the report is “understanding that this did not happen because of anything ‘the Archdiocese’ did or did not do.”
”It is something that the church did. They transferred these guys from place to place to place,” Lorenz said. “They knew they were mistreating children. They knew they were raping and sodomizing children.”
Kurt Wolfgang, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, who represents two survivors, Jean Hargadon Wehner and Teresa Lancaster, said he is “absolutely thrilled.”
Wolfgang described the decision as a “virtual, complete vindication of our position.” He spoke about how his clients stood up to the government and archdiocese in pushing for the names to be unredacted — and won.
He said he expects that some people will appeal the decision. If that happens, Wolfgang said, he anticipates that their names will not be released while the appeal plays out.
The attorney general’s office issued the grand jury report four months ago to expose the sexual abuse and cover-ups during the last 80 years within the Archdiocese of Baltimore. But the names of five archdiocesan officials and 10 church figures, as well as other information, were blacked out in the document.
The names were hidden because they surfaced during the confidential grand jury investigation that produced the report — not because of doubts about the credibility of the allegations.
The report also includes 31 other people who are not accused of abuse, but referenced in the report. The judge ordered all but two of those people may be identified.
“Most of the remaining individuals played relatively minor roles in the events described in the Report. In many instances, their conduct appears to be innocuous. Nonetheless, several individuals in this category opposed any efforts at publishing their names for fear of ‘guilt by association,’” Taylor wrote.
The redacted names
The Banner identified seven of the accused by matching details in the report with court documents, archdiocesan records, church directories, school yearbooks and property records.
The Sun identified three of the accused church figures as:
Official C was identified as W. Francis Malooly by Terry McKiernan, founder of BishopAccountability.org, and The Sun.
The Sun identified the remaining four church officials as:
- Monsignor J. Bruce Jarboe, Official A
- Monsignor Richard Woy, Official B
- Monsignor George B. Moeller, Official D
- Monsignor G. Michael Schleupner, Official E