Will the Archdiocese of Baltimore block release of the report on priest sex abuse? Church won’t quite say

Published on: November 18, 2022 7:08 PM EST|Updated on: November 21, 2022 6:59 AM EST

Dave Lorenz, Maryland director for SNAP, speaks to press about priest abuse at the Catholic Center Archdiocese of Baltimore, in Baltimore Md., on November 18, 2022.

David Lorenz felt anxious after reading the letter Thursday from the archbishop of Baltimore.

In the letter, the archbishop apologized again for decades of child sex abuse by priests and the silence of the church. State investigators have asked the courts for permission to release the results of their multiyear investigation into abuses in the Archdiocese of Baltimore — a 456-page report that identifies 158 priests and 600 victims of abuse over the past 80 years. These details would renew pain for those harmed, the archbishop wrote.

Those last words gave Lorenz pause.

“I am concerned that they have kind of inched their way a little toward blocking it,” said Lorenz, director of the Maryland Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. “Maybe I’m reading more into it than I should, but I don’t trust these guys.”

It’s a question on the minds of survivors, advocates and their lawyers in Baltimore. Will the archdiocese allow the release of a confidential investigation into sex abuse in the church?

The four-year investigation by the Office of the Maryland Attorney General was conducted through use of a grand jury. Therefore, under state law, the materials are confidential without a court order. That leaves room for the church to step in. The church could agree to release the report — or argue to keep it secret. A judge would resolve the matter.

Maryland law typically allows 15 days for an opposing party, in this case the church, to respond to the attorney general’s request to release the report.

The attorney general’s office, which filed the motion on Thursday, has not yet received indication of whether the church will oppose the release of the report, a spokeswoman said, adding that they shared the report with the archdiocese on Tuesday. But she said the office was encouraged by the letter from Archbishop William Lori, which described new efforts by the church to protect children.

When asked if the church would agree to its release, a spokesman for the archdiocese issued a statement that leaves room for interpretation.

“The Archdiocese will continue to cooperate with any legal processes relating to the Attorney General’s investigation. The Archdiocese is participating in the court process, and understands that the courts rightly expect the law on grand jury materials to be followed and due process to be respected,” Christian Kendzierski wrote. “The Archdiocese does not object to the release of a report which accurately details the heinous crime and sin of child sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the clergy and also fairly and accurately details how the Archdiocese responded to such allegations, even when the response fell far short of how such allegations are handled today.”

When The Banner sought clarity — particularly around the caveat about fairness and accuracy of the report — Kendzierski said the archdiocese has not determined whether the report is accurate.

The ambiguity has left survivors bracing for the possibility of a legal fight over the release of the report. A longtime attorney for the archdiocese, Dave Kinkopf, did not return a message.

Baltimore attorney Joanne Suder, who represents victims of priest sex abuse, said she would expect the archdiocese to try and keep at least some of the report out of the public. Maryland law has firmly established grand jury materials as confidential without good cause for release.

“The church has never been a voluntary proponent, unless pressed, for sharing all relevant information,” she said. “They do things with lobbyists and attorneys behind the scenes. They’re always going to publicly say we’re transparent and we’re in favor of 100% transparency.”

Defense attorney Joseph Murtha, who has represented priests accused of sexual assault, said the church would be hard-pressed to argue the report should remain secret.

“To not consent to the disclosure of the report would be inconsistent with the position that they currently take with regard to transparency and disclosure,” he said. “If the church really wants to make amends, what would be their reason for opposing the disclosure?”

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, who retires in January, and other attorneys general launched investigations in their states after Pennsylvania authorities released their two-year investigation in summer 2018. That 884-page report included accounts of more than 1,000 children abused over the years. The report led to criminal prosecutions of surviving priests and a flood of lawsuits. Some dioceses filed for bankruptcy.

In Pennsylvania, the attorney general attempted to make public the entire report in the spring of 2018, but the six archdioceses fought to keep private names of their priests. The legal wrangling took four months. The bombshell report contained credible allegations of abuse by 300 clergy members.

The names of only 11 of the 300 priests had been redacted. Pennsylvania’s highest court later ordered one of those names unsealed.

Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General spokeswoman Jacklin Rhoads said the legal fight was worthwhile.

“Transparency shows the truth, empowers victims and informs the public — particularly families who can make the best informed decisions for the safety of their children,” she said.

While victim advocates wanted all the names released, Mike McDonnell, representing SNAP in Pennsylvania, said it was a small piece of the larger reckoning that took place because, unlike Maryland, there was no public list of abusers.

For two decades, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has maintained a list of credibly accused priests and other clergy on its website. Today, the list includes 152 names.

McDonnell believes none of the Pennsylvania priests whose names were redacted were ever made public. In some cases, victims came forward and received compensation from the church for their abuse, but in order to get the money they had to promise never to bring a lawsuit against the archdiocese that would have made the abuse public.

“Oftentimes the diocese wants to protect a certain alleged abuser because there are other names that are attached to it. There might be a bishop who might have ignored allegations or moved a priest,” McDonnell said. “That bishop may be a bishop in another diocese to this day. They protect their own.”

The Maryland report identifies 115 priests who were prosecuted for sex abuse or previously identified by the archdiocese as credibly accused, according to the motion filed Thursday. State investigators found an additional 43 priests who were accused, but have not been publicly identified, Assistant Attorney General Carrie Williams wrote.

Thirty of the 43 priests have died, Williams wrote. That leaves 13 living priests who have not been previously accused of sexual abuse. Williams told the courts that the office has redacted those 13 names from the report.

“By doing so, the office has satisfied the only outstanding argument in support of non-disclosure,” she wrote.