The Archdiocese of Baltimore says it will not oppose the release of an investigation into clergy child abuse

Published on: November 22, 2022 3:12 PM EST|Updated on: November 23, 2022 10:53 AM EST

Photo collage of a tower of the Baltimore Basilica, boy holding rosary, man holding photo of teen boy from 70s, Archbishop Keogh High School sign, Sister Catherine Cesnik, and Archbishop William H. Keeler.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore will not oppose the release of a nearly four-year investigation into child sexual abuse, church leaders said in a detailed statement released Tuesday evening.

“We believe that transparency is necessary to rebuild the trust that has been damaged by evil acts of abuse committed by representatives of the Church and by historic failures of Church leadership to respond adequately to those acts,” the statement said.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh filed a motion Thursday to have a judge release a 456-page report detailing the findings of his office’s investigation, announcing that investigators had found 158 clergy who had been accused of abuse. The investigation was conducted through use of a grand jury. Therefore, under state law, all materials are confidential without a court order.

In its first response last week, the archdiocese said it would not oppose the release of a report as long as the review was accurate and fairly reflected the progress it believed the church had made in recent years to address the issue. But the organization equivocated on whether it would take legal action to block release of the report or have names of the priests redacted.

In Tuesday’s statement, there is no equivocation. The archdiocese said it fully supported the release of the report even though it does not believe the church’s efforts in the past two decades to protect youth have been fully acknowledged.

“We are different — different than we were in the past — yet we must be transparent in acknowledging our past. To that end, the Archdiocese of Baltimore will not oppose the public release of the Attorney General’s report,” the statement said.

“We take this position even though we have deep disagreements with aspects of the Attorney General’s motion, including the implication that the Church in Baltimore has not implemented a strong culture of child protection for the past three decades,” the statement continued. “However, we recognize that efforts on the part of the Archdiocese to challenge errors and mischaracterizations through legal processes will likely be viewed as an attempt to conceal past failures.”

The archdiocese’s position, however, does not mean that the report will soon be released or that the public will have any idea how the case is proceeding.

Attorneys representing people named but not accused in the investigation want a judge to seal the entire case file, according to new court records.

The attorney general disclosed in a filing Tuesday that attorneys for those people want a judge to keep secret all the filings of the case “regardless of content.”

“This sweeping request violates the ‘longstanding tradition of access to court proceedings and records,’” Assistant Attorney General Carrie Williams wrote, quoting case law.

Williams indicated her office plans to submit additional arguments by Dec. 6 that the case file should remain open to public view. Her filing also indicated that a judge has not yet ordered the matter closed — yet court officials have repeatedly told The Baltimore Banner this week that they are unable to disclose information about the case.

“That sounds like the fix is in,” said David Lorenz, director of the Maryland Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. “I find it disturbing that the lack of transparency of the court is in line with the lack of transparency of the archdiocese that hid child sexual abuse.”

In its statement, the archdiocese said “we support the rights of individuals to participate in the legal process, particularly those named in the report who have not been accused of abuse and who have not been contacted by or given any previous opportunity to respond to the Attorney General.”

The statement said the archdiocese had an obligation to some of those individuals “including indemnifying legal fees for representation,” and said those people should be heard before the court makes a decision on whether to release the report.

Last week, the attorney general’s office requested a judge’s permission to release its findings.

In the motion to disclose the report, Williams wrote the attorney general’s office identified 158 priests, most of them already known, within the archdiocese accused of the “sexual abuse” and “physical torture” of more than 600 victims over the past 80 years. Williams described the abuse as pervasive, writing that priests abused boys and girls from preschool age to young adulthood and “no parish was safe.” She also wrote that church leaders covered up the abuse, or acted with complicit silence.

By Tuesday, however, the public docket of the case had not appeared online. Maryland courts spokesman Bradley Tanner said he was unable to find any information about the status of the case because it was confidential. Chief Judge Audrey Carrión of the Baltimore Circuit Court did not return messages, nor did Circuit Court Clerk Marilyn Bentley.

Staff in the criminal clerk’s office told a reporter they could not produce the case file because it’s sealed. Williams’ motion, however, suggests otherwise.

She wrote that the attorneys seeking to seal the case represent people who are named in the report but not accused of sexual abuse.

“This case involves the sexual abuse of children and an institution’s attempt to cover-up that abuse,” she wrote. “Baldly claiming an interest in keeping these proceedings secret is insufficient.”

A longtime attorney for the archdiocese, Dave Kinkopf, did not respond to emails about the status of the case.

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 church has had a copy since last Tuesday.

Frosh’s office has already indicated it would redact the names of 13 living priests who have not previously been publicly accused of child sexual abuse.

In Pennsylvania, 11 previously unidentified priests accused of sexual abuse successfully argued to the state’s highest court that their names should be redacted from a similar report. The court agreed, finding the redactions necessary to protect their legal rights of due process.

Still, Lorenz and others have called for the Maryland case to proceed with complete transparency, considering the church’s influence in the courts and state government. They have also asked whether the case will be assigned to one of the Catholic judges of the Baltimore Circuit Court.

Carrión, for one, graduated from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland — the first Catholic college for women in the U.S. to offer a four-year degree, now known as Notre Dame of Maryland University — according to her biography online. Baltimore Circuit Judge Anthony Vittoria, who’s currently assigned to grand jury matters, volunteers as a member of the Catholic Community of South Baltimore, according to his biography.

Frosh, who retires in January, and other attorneys general launched investigations in their states after Pennsylvania authorities released their two-year investigation in the summer of 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.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore said Tuesday that in the the past two decades its efforts “to protect children and support survivors have dramatically changed our culture of child and youth protection.” The organization said it has “aggressively removed abusive priests, led the nation in publishing a lengthy list of priests and brothers accused of abuse” and provided counseling assistance and financial settlements because it was the right thing to do.

In 2002, the archdiocese began listing most priests who had been accused of abuse when the church could substantiate that the accusations were credible. Other archdioceses around that nation, including Pennsylvania, were not as transparent at the time.