Catholic priests and officials assigned to the Archdiocese of Baltimore sexually abused and tortured more than 600 people over the past 80 years, and the church helped to cover most of it up, a report from the Maryland Attorney General’s Office found.
There are “almost certainly” hundreds more victims of the “rampant sexual abuse within the archdiocese,” according to a motion filed Thursday in Baltimore Circuit Court by attorneys in the office of Attorney General Brian Frosh.
Boys and girls were abused, with ages ranging from preschoolers to young adults, according to the motion, which described a report by Frosh’s office that’s the result of a four-year investigation. The report is not yet public — it relies largely on grand jury materials — but the motion Frosh’s office filed seeks to make it so.
David Lorenz, Maryland state director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the abuse allegations “appalled” him, but he was not shocked.
“I’m horrified, and I feel a lot of other things, but ‘surprised’ is not one of them,” he said.
The motion said investigators found 158 clergy accused of sexual abuse, including 43 priests and other church officials the archdiocese never publicly identified. Church officials have repeatedly said they share the names of every accused clergy member with law enforcement. Of the 43 who weren’t publicly identified, 30 have died.
Archbishop William E. Lori apologized to the victims in a letter he sent Thursday evening to the more than 486,000 Catholics in the archdiocese.
“Upon reading today’s motion, we feel renewed shame, deep remorse and heartfelt sympathy, most especially to those who suffered from the actions of representatives of the very Church entrusted with their spiritual and physical well-being,” Lori wrote.
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.”
The attorney general’s office’s investigation found parish members and students at some institutions suffered more than others. For instance, a parish sometimes had more than one sexually abusive priest assigned there at a time. At least one parish, which was not named in the motion, was assigned 11 sexually abusive priests in a 40-year period.
“Time and again, the archdiocese chose the abuser over the abused, the powerful over the weak, and the adult over the child,” Williams wrote.
Two victims died by suicide, the report found. One victim was so traumatized, he suffered facial paralysis. In another case, a priest abused boys for decades, starting as early as 1959. The archdiocese knew of the ongoing abuse for at least 30 years, but did not alert authorities until 1997. A different priest, known to have abused boys in Connecticut, was appointed chaplain at a Baltimore high school in the 1970s where fresh abuse occurred. The church paid one priest’s tuition, salary and living expenses even after he admitted to abusing boys.
“The sexual abuse was so pervasive that victims were sometimes reporting sexual abuse to priests who were perpetrators themselves,” the motion said.
The investigation found the archdiocese failed to report many allegations of sexual abuse, conduct adequate investigations, remove abusers from their posts and restrict their access to children. Instead, the attorney general’s office found, the archdiocese “went to great lengths in order to keep the abuse secret,” according to the motion.
“For decades, survivors reported sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests and for decades the church covered up the abuse rather than holding the abusers accountable and protecting its congregations,” Frosh said in a statement. “The Archdiocese of Baltimore was no exception.”
The 456-page report itself is not yet publicly available because it relies largely on material obtained using a grand jury. Maryland law requires all grand jury records be kept secret. The motion filed by Frosh’s office asks a circuit court judge to waive grand jury privilege and allow the attorney general to release the report publicly, according to the motion obtained by The Baltimore Sun.
“Publicly airing the transgressions of the church is critical to holding people and institutions accountable and improving the way sexual abuse allegations are handled going forward,” Williams wrote.
The archdiocese will have the chance to respond to Frosh’s motion, and could argue the report shouldn’t be released. A a call to a law firm representing the archdiocese was not returned.
Asked Monday if the church would oppose a motion like the one by Frosh’s office, a spokesperson for the archdiocese told The Sun in an email: “The Archdiocese will continue to cooperate with any legal processes relating to the attorney general’s investigation.”
The archdiocese turned over hundreds of thousands of records as part of the attorney general’s investigation, including some as recently as July, and hundreds of victims and priests were interviewed.
Lori, in his letter to worshippers in the archdiocese’s 145 parishes, said he would continue to apologize for the church’s past wrongdoings “so long as there are people in pain.” However, Lori noted the archdiocese has “fully complied” with the church’s child protection efforts in the past two decades.
“Conclusions drawn from historic events in today’s motion, while a continued source of shame and remorse, do not reflect the archdiocese’s current and decades-long strong pastoral response and handling of allegations of child sexual abuse,” Lori wrote.
Lori wrote he is praying that the attorney general’s court filing brings healing. However, he did not address whether the archdiocese would support the public release of the report.
Lorenz, the state SNAP president, said the report revealed details that he largely expected.
“Again and again, these independent reports on abuse in the church have shown the same thing — lots of abusive priests and an effort to turn a blind eye, to move them around from place to place and to cover it all up.”
Lorenz called it “crucially important” the report be public, in large part because seeing the names of abusive priests in print and hearing their deeds described would encourage more victims to come forward.
The archdiocese has published on its website the names of priests, brothers and other employees who have been credibly abused of sex abuse since in 2002, when the late Cardinal William H. Keeler instituted the practice. Its list has been updated several times in the years since, growing from 57 names to 152. 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 who it said had been credibly accused.
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Lorenz said SNAP would formally ask the judge to grant the attorney general permission to publish the report.
One well-known survivor said she was heartened by the legal developments.
”I’m really, really delighted,” said Teresa Lancaster, who in the 1970s suffered years of sexual abuse at the hands of the late Father Joseph Maskell, whose crimes were detailed in the 2017 Netflix docuseries “The Keepers.”
“It has been such a long time coming that I didn’t think I’d ever see this happen. The fact that we may be getting those names out there is just really, really wonderful.”
Lancaster said the scope of the findings came as no surprise. She agreed with Frosh that the numbers of victims and abuses are “almost certainly” higher than the report found.
”You have to take into consideration the ones who have not been able to come forward,” said Lancaster, an attorney who lives in Edgewater. “There are lots of people who have this happen and who stay in hiding because they just can’t face the public.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Emily Opilo contributed to this article.