After days of mixed signals, the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore announced Tuesday that it would not oppose the public release of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office’s report showing the extent of sexual abuses committed by clergy over the past eight decades.
The announcement comes after Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office revealed in a court filing that it had completed a 456-page report detailing how 158 priests and other church officials had sexually abused more than 600 people — some of them as young as preschool age.
What’s more, the report reveals how the church often ignored abuse reports, and often helped cover the abuses up.
“We are different — different than we were in the past — yet we must be transparent in acknowledging our past,” wrote Christian Kendzierski, the archdiocese’s spokesperson, in a statement. “To that end, the Archdiocese of Baltimore will not oppose the public release of the Attorney General’s report.”
The report, which is not public, includes 43 priests, 13 of whom are still living, who have not been previously named to the public, according to a motion Frosh’s office filed seeking to publish the report.
Boys and girls — from preschoolers to young adults — were abused, according to the motion. It relies largely on grand jury materials, which are secret under Maryland law unless a judge rules the materials can be disclosed to the public.
Abuse took place throughout the archdiocese’s nine Maryland counties and Baltimore City, with Assistant Attorney General Carrie Williams writing in the motion that “no parish was safe.”
Survivors of abuse gathered in recent days to demand Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori consent to the report’s public release. David Lorenz, the Maryland director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said Friday that Lori needed to “take action.”
While the church will not oppose the report’s public release, it still does not entirely agree with its contents — specifically a perceived implication that the report fails to convey the “strong culture of child protection” the archdiocese has developed over the past three decades, Kendzierski wrote.
“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,” Kendzierski wrote.
Voice of the Faithful, an independent organization of lay Catholics founded in 2002 in response to the church’s sexual abuse crises, released a report this year that ranked the Baltimore archdiocese third among U.S. dioceses and archdioceses in complying with the church’s child protection guidelines.
Frosh, a Democrat who will leave office and retire in January, said earlier this week in a radio interview that the church’s cover-up of sexual abuse was over “to the best” of his knowledge.
“The church changed its policy dramatically in 2002, and the law by that time had mandated reports of child abuse, and the church has since then, as far as we can tell, followed the law, reported child sexual abuse and child abuse when it was reported to them,” he told WYPR radio.
Still, Lorenz said the point of the report was not to congratulate the church for its recent progress, but to shine light on past transgressions.
“It is not the job of the AG to determine if the church is fulfilling its obligations,” Lorenz said.
The SNAP director added that many survivors don’t come forward until around the age of 50, which he said means that most of the reported abuse is already decades old by the time it’s revealed.
“We won’t know if they are still hiding things until 40 or 50 years from now,” Lorenz said.
A judge still will have to order the report’s release, and a group of individuals named in the report, but not accused of sexual assault, filed court papers last Thursday seeking to hide from the public all proceedings surrounding the release.
The names of the individuals, as well as how many are a part of the group, are unknown. Their attorneys wrote in a court filing that they would reveal their clients’ identities only in a closed hearing.
The group did not state why it wanted the proceedings sealed.
It’s not clear whether the Archdiocese of Baltimore employs any of the individuals, but the church is aware of the filing. It’s also unclear how group members know they are in the report — the only two organizations with access to it are the church and the attorney general’s office.
“The decision of the Archdiocese not to oppose the release of the report does not mean legal requirements should not be observed, or individuals who may be named in a report should be denied the opportunity to participate,” Kendzierski wrote.
Frosh’s office, in its own court filing, said it will oppose the group’s request.
Michael McDonnell, communications manager for the national SNAP network, said that while the organization is “grateful that the Archdiocese is not opposing the release of the report,” SNAP wonders how the Archdiocese can know that any individuals whose names are mentioned in the report are innocent of wrongdoing.
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“It is our hope that any in the cases of any names that [end up being] redacted, their counsel would have no problem in disclosing their names in order to help clear them,” he said.
The attorney general’s investigation found widespread suffering, though some parishes and institutions were worse off than others. Some parishes had more than one sexually abusive priest assigned at a time. At least one parish, which has not been named publicly, was assigned 11 sexually abusive priests in a 40-year period.
“The sexual abuse was so pervasive that victims were sometimes reporting sexual abuse to priests who were perpetrators themselves,” Williams wrote in the motion seeking the report’s publication.
The archdiocese has posted on its website the names of priests, brothers and other employees who have been credibly accused of sex abuse since.
The list was first published in 2002, when the late Cardinal William H. Keeler instituted the practice. It has been updated several times in the years since, growing from 57 names to 152.
It’s not clear why the archdiocese and the attorney general have different figures, but the church has said it releases the names of only those it believes are “credibly accused.”
The archdiocese in 2018 added the names of 10 who were named in a Pennsylvania grand jury report earlier that year. In 2019, the Baltimore archdiocese added 24 names of deceased clergy members it said had been credibly accused.