The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on a 6-1 vote refused to make public the names of Catholic priests who were named in an explosive grand jury report but never charged criminally.
The court cited the constitutional right to reputation and the separation of powers in determining that the names of the priests accused in the nearly 900-page grand jury report should not be made public.
“In responding to the present constitutional challenge, our court may not usurp the province of the legislature by rewriting the act to add hearing and evidentiary requirements that grand juries, supervising judges, and parties must follow which do not comport with the act itself, as that is not our proper role under our constitutionally established tripartite form of governance,” Justice Debra Todd, who wrote the majority’s 18-page opinion, said.
The grand jury report, which was released in August, exposed seven decades of abuse by clergy members, and said more than 1,000 children had been sexually abused in the state. The release sparked a national debate about accountability for child sexual abuse, and led several states and the U.S. Department of Justice to launch similar investigations.
Release of the report had initially been blocked over due process concerns, since those named in the report would be publicly seen as child abusers even though the report’s accusations would never be properly adjudicated in court.
In July the Supreme Court allowed the report to be released publicly, but ordered that the names of those with due process challenges needed to be redacted—at least temporarily. The court’s 31-page opinion announcing its decisions had said that, although the report could be released with the names of specific priests and church officials redacted, those challenging the report’s release raised significant constitutional due process issues that the court needed to address.
Some practitioners also contended that the grand jury investigation process has become increasingly muddled over recent years, and they saw the Supreme Court’s decision to consider the due process ramifications as an opportunity for the court to make substantive changes to the process.
Some of the recommended changes the parties made were allowing defendants to present rebuttal information in a hearing before the grand jury supervising judge, or allowing the grand jury to be re-impaneled to address the disputes.
The court, however, declined to implement any of the party’s suggestions, saying that any changes would need to be made by the state General Assembly.
“We conclude that we may not judicially correct the Investigating Grand Jury Act (although … we may insure an inform process does not result in unconstitutional harm),” Todd said.
Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr attorneys Justin Danilewitz and Christopher Hall, who represented the unnamed people, said in a joint statement, “We’re grateful for the court’s reaffirmation of bedrock constitutional principals, and required procedural safe guards.”
In a statement to the press, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office conducted the grand jury investigation, said the order “allows predator priests to remain in the shadows and permits the Church to continue concealing their identities.”
“While this order bars me from releasing the names of these 11 petitioners, nothing in this order prevents the dioceses from sharing the shielded names with their parishioners and the public,” Shapiro said. “I call on the bishops to do so immediately, consistent with their recent calls for transparency.”