Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court is blocking the release of a major grand jury report on allegations of child sex abuse and cover-ups in six of the state’s Roman Catholic dioceses. This came as a result of legal challenges filed under seal by people who are probably named in the report, and the court refused to make the report public or even name the people who filed the challenges. It sounds paradoxical, but it looks like the court is covering up a report about cover-ups.
According to Fox News, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro will ask the court to swiftly decide lingering legal issues. He expects to make that request Monday. "The people of Pennsylvania have a right to see the report, know who is attempting to block its release and why, and to hear the voices of the victims of sexual abuse within the Church," Shapiro said in a statement.
Several news organizations, including The Associated Press, filed a motion to intervene in the case stating that the court is obligated by law to release the report. The news organizations lawyers are insisting on the release of the report. They are suggesting that the court should immediately order the report’s release with only those parts that are in question shielded from view in case the court decides it needs more time to consider the legal challenges. This way the court will be consistent with practice in other grand jury matters, where reports are made public.
The grand jury spent two years investigating the allegations of child sex abuse cases in the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton, churches with some 1.7 million members, so the report is expected to be the largest of that kind. Jurors have heard from dozens of witnesses and reviewed a huge amount of internal diocesan documents. Those child abuse cases and cover-ups involve not only people associated with the church but also local public officials and community leaders — another reason why the report should be made public.
People who were named in the report were allowed to submit written responses to the allegations within it, and those responses should be released along with the report. According to the court’s opinion, most of those people who filed legal challenges claim they are discussed in the report in a way that would violate reputational rights guaranteed by the state constitution and that they have a due process right to be heard by the grand jury. The justices said they have not seen the entire report and need time to sort through legal arguments, as Fox News reports.
It is important to protect the legal rights of those who are mentioned in the report and respect their presumption of innocence, but it is also important and crucial to protect the victims — and possible future victims — of child abuse by releasing the report in public.
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