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Crime

Baltimore judge orders all proceedings secret in legal fight over release of Catholic clergy abuse report

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge ordered that all court proceedings, communications and filings must remain confidential in the fight to release an attorney general’s office report into sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests over decades.

Circuit Judge Anthony Vittoria issued his confidentiality ruling Friday after an anonymous group of people named in the report but who were not accused of abuse requested all court proceedings in the matter be made secret. iThe group, whose members’ legal fees are being paid in part by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, asked the judge to seal all proceedings in the case because it revolves around grand jury materials, which are secret under Maryland law.

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Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office finished the report in mid-November, and asked a judge’s permission to make public its 456-page document detailing how 158 priests sexually abused and tortured at least 600 people, with examples of abuse going back at least eight decades. The report also shows how the church, in that time period, sought to cover up the abuses and, in some cases, enabled them.

Supplemented with interviews, the report relies on more than 100,000 internal church documents that the attorney general’s office obtained via a grand jury subpoena.

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Vittoria’s ruling retroactively sealed all previous filings in the matter, including the attorney general’s office’s motion to disclose the report. However, all previous filings have been publicized. In his order, Vittoria said he made the decision to “preserve the secrecy and sanctity of grand jury proceedings.”

Vittoria, who is a member of the Catholic Community of South Baltimore, also directed all parties to bring future filings directly to his chambers, not the clerk of court’s office, which is customary.

Frosh’s office had until Tuesday to respond to the group’s motion and outline why it thought the proceedings should not be sealed. Because the entire case file is now confidential, it’s unclear whether attorneys in his office filed their response. A spokesperson for Frosh’s office on Monday declined to comment, citing the confidentiality order.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori reiterated Friday that the Catholic Church in Maryland will not oppose the report’s release. However, he said the church had obligations to people named in the report — the anonymous group — and that it would pay their legal fees to ensure the court heard their arguments. A spokesperson for the archdiocese did not reply to a request for comment Monday.

An attorney for the group, William J. Murphy, declined to comment on Vittoria’s ruling when reached by phone Monday, citing the confidentiality order.

Murphy and his co-counsel, former Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein, wrote in their own filing that they would identify their clients only in a confidential hearing.

It’s not clear how members of the anonymous group know they are in the secret report.

Both the attorney general’s office and abuse survivors have said the anonymous group opposes the report’s release, and that because the church is paying for its lawyers, the church is also in opposition.

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Lori said financially supporting these anonymous individuals does not mean the church stands in opposition to the attorney general.

Two abuse survivors, Teresa Lancaster and Jean Wehner, who were victimized during their time at Archbishop Keough High School, made two court filings last week asking Vittoria to make the entirety of the proceedings public and to order the report’s full release.

Attorney Kurt Wolfgang, who also heads the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, is representing the two women and said he was “disappointed” to learn of Vittoria’s ruling. He also said he is still deciding whether he and his clients will appeal the decision.

For the record

The article has been updated to clarify that Baltimore Circuit Judge Tony Vittoria's decision came after an anonymous group of people named in the report but who were not accused of abuse requested all court proceedings in the matter be made secret.


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