Court halts release of report on Pennsylvania priest abuse

Pennsylvania's highest court is holding up the public release of a grand jury report expected to reveal details of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania.

Capitol Building, Harrisburg. (Kevin McCorry/WHYY)

Capitol Building, Harrisburg. (Kevin McCorry/WHYY)

Updated 4:48 p.m.

Pennsylvania’s highest court on Wednesday held up the release of a grand jury report into the handling of sexual abuse claims involving six Roman Catholic dioceses and local officials, days before it was expected to be made public.

The two-paragraph order did not explain the reasons but said nothing in the court file except the new order is available for public inspection.

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The report is expected to reveal details of widespread abuse and efforts to conceal and protect abusive priests.

The court told the grand jury supervisory judge and the state attorney general’s office they may not release the findings until the court gives its permission.

Victim advocates have said the report is expected to be the largest and most exhaustive by a U.S. state.

The two-year investigation covered six of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses, churches with some 1.7 million members.

Before the latest order, state prosecutors had said they were likely to release it by the end of next week.

“My legal team and I will continue fighting tirelessly to make sure the victims of this abuse are able to tell their stories and the findings of this investigation are made public to the people of Pennsylvania,” said state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Judge Norman Krumenacker, based in Cambria County, earlier this month made public his decision to reject an effort to delay the release of the report or let those named in it challenge the details before it’s made public.

He wrote that jurors heard from dozens of witnesses and reviewed over half a million pages of internal documents from diocesan archives. The investigation involved claims of child sexual abuse, failure to report to law enforcement and obstruction of justice by those associated with the Roman Catholic Church, local public officials and community leaders.

The judge said the state has a strong interest in preventing child abuse “by identifying abusers and those individuals and institutions that enable (them) to continue abusing children.”

The investigation covered the Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses. A 2005 report documented mishandling of abuse claims in the Philadelphia diocese about more than 100 priests and other clergies. All current bishops for the dioceses were able to testify before the grand jury, Krumenacker wrote, but only the Erie bishop did so.

Two years ago, state prosecutors disclosed the results of a statewide investigative grand jury in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese.

It said there were allegations of abuse against more than 50 priests and others by hundreds of children over decades. Bishops were told to keep the allegations secret, the Altoona-Johnstown report said.

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