Once Anthony Brown is sworn in as Maryland’s attorney general Jan. 3, he must move expeditiously to seek permission to release the delayed report on alleged sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The result of a four-year investigation led by Brian Frosh, the state’s outgoing attorney general, the 456-page document identifies 158 priests who allegedly abused more than 600 boys and girls — some of them preschoolers — over a period of 80 years.

While it is unclear exactly how many of these sexual predators are alive and still members of the priesthood, Frosh wants the report to be made public. The victims, he told me, deserve as much.

“I think justice has been delayed for so many of the abused,” Frosh said. “Our report is the best and perhaps only way that justice can be done and the truth can be told.”

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He’s right. But the efforts of The Baltimore Banner and other media organizations to obtain and publicize the report’s content have been blocked by Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Anthony Vittoria, who said he did so “to preserve the secrecy and sanctity of grand jury proceedings.”

That’s a bit of judicial bunkum.

Just as the primary job of journalists is “to seek truth and report it,” the job of Baltimore’s Circuit Court should be no less. But Judge Vittoria’s talk of preserving the secrecy and sanctity of the grand jury proceedings that produced Frosh’s report is doublespeak, and suggests that he has a conflict of interest that should disqualify him from this case.

Anthony Vittoria and Cecil Calvert are kindred souls.

Calvert was the English baron — the second Lord Baltimore — who founded Maryland in 1634 as a place where European Catholics could escape religious persecution. Like Calvert, whose statue guards the entrance of the courthouse where Vittoria’s office is located, the judge is a devout Catholic. On the Maryland government website where short bios of the Baltimore City Circuit Court judges are listed, Vittoria identifies himself as a member of the “Catholic Community of South Baltimore.”

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Sharing the same faith with an interested party in a case before them should not mandate a judge’s recusal. Just as the fact that one of my daughters works in the attorney general’s office — but had no connection to the sexual abuse investigation and report — shouldn’t taint my opinion on this matter. But when it appears a judge favors parties that have a direct involvement in a case before him, a conflict of interest — real or imagined — can injure the perception of justice.

Judge Vittoria’s order that all “proceedings, filings, and communications regarding this matter are to be CONFIDENTIAL,” came after the Archdiocese he belongs to was given a copy of the report on the sexual abuse of scores of its priests, and — apparently — shared it with some of the church members who are named in the document. After getting that information, these interested parties anonymously filed a motion to seal all records in this case.

When Judge Vittoria granted that motion, he cast a shadow on his decision making. And when he left his order in place after it became known that the Catholic Church is paying much of the legal fees of these people, he further undermined the public’s expectation of judicial fairness. His conduct should attract the attention of the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities, which can sanction the conduct of judges that is “prejudicial to the proper administration of justice” or advances their “private interests.”

The job of the journalist is to tell people what those in positions of authority don’t want them to know.

The archdiocese, it seems, has a lot that it doesn’t want people to know about the bad acts that were committed by scores of its priests — actions that may have been aided and abetted by others who are named but not accused of any crime in the attorney general’s report.

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Publicly, the archdiocese says it wants the truth to get out. But its actions suggest otherwise. And in this deception, the archdiocese — the nation’s oldest — appears to be aided by Judge Vittoria’s questionable ruling in this case.

Next month, Brian Frosh steps down and Anthony Brown takes over as Maryland’s chief legal officer. The hope is that he quickly will appeal Judge Vittoria’s ruling and take every action within his authority to let the public know about the documented wrongdoing of a group of priests who are now being shielded by the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore’s purse strings — and a judge of the Baltimore City Circuit Court.

DeWayne Wickham is the public editor for The Baltimore Banner.


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