Maryland attorney general releases report on decades of sex abuse by Catholic priests
BALTIMORE — The Maryland Attorney General's Office has publicly released a redacted version of an investigative report detailing sex abuse allegations against more than 150 Catholic priests and examining the Archdiocese of Baltimore's response.
The redacted findings were made public Wednesday afternoon, marking a significant development in an ongoing legal battle over its release and adding to growing evidence from parishes across the country as numerous similar revelations have rocked the Catholic Church in recent years.
Former Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh launched the probe in 2019 and announced its completion in November, saying investigators had reviewed over 100,000 pages of documents dating back to the 1940s and interviewed hundreds of victims and witnesses. The report's contents weren't immediately released because they include information obtained from church officials via grand jury subpoenas, which are confidential proceedings in Maryland.
Lawyers for the state asked a court for permission to release the nearly 500-page document, which identifies 158 priests accused of abusing more than 600 victims over the past 80 years, and Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Robert Taylor ruled last month that a redacted version should be made public. Officials recently started making the necessary redactions, which included removing the names and titles of 37 people accused of wrongdoing.
"The need for disclosure outweighs the need for secrecy," Taylor wrote in his decision to release the report, saying a "public reckoning" may be the only form of justice available to some victims.
He also said Maryland legislators should be able to consider the report's contents during the ongoing legislative session, which ends April 10. That timeline meant the report became public during Holy Week, which concludes Lent and is considered the most sacred time of year in Christianity ahead of Easter Sunday.
State lawmakers are currently considering whether to end the state's statute of limitations for when civil lawsuits related to child sexual abuse can be filed against institutions. Similar proposals have failed in recent years, but the issue received renewed attention this session and the current proposal is nearing passage in Annapolis, where lawmakers have until midnight next Monday to give final approval and send the bill to Gov. Wes Moore, who has said he supports it. Currently, victims of child sex abuse in Maryland can't sue after they turn 38. The bill would eliminate the age limit and allow for retroactive lawsuits.
"The report is likely to evoke many emotions: anger, disgust, disillusionment and sadness among them," Baltimore Archbishop William Lori said in a statement Monday ahead of its release. "Though the Archdiocese has made great strides over the last three decades to rid the Church of the scourge of abuse and to set the standard for how institutions should respond to allegations of child sexual abuse, the report covers a period in the Archdiocese's past when our response to such allegations was woefully inadequate."
The report paints a damning picture
In the weeks leading up to the release, Taylor directed prosecutors to entirely redact the identities of 37 people from the report before releasing it. He also told the attorney general to rephrase some pieces of the document to avoid identifying 60 other people. The court will consider releasing a more complete version in the future.
When Maryland prosecutors asked to release the findings of their recent investigation, they summarized some of the report's contents, which paint a damning picture. Sexual abuse was so pervasive, the filing said, that some parishes, congregations and schools had more than one abusive priest at the same time — including one congregation where 11 abusive priests practiced over 40 years. In some cases, victims ended up reporting abuse to priests who were abusive themselves, prosecutors wrote.
The investigation also revealed that the archdiocese failed to report many allegations of sexual abuse to authorities, conduct adequate investigations, remove abusers from the ministry or restrict their access to children.
"Instead, it went to great lengths to keep the abuse secret," the court filing said. "While the Archdiocese reported a large number of allegations to police, especially in later years, for decades it worked to ensure that the perpetrators would not face justice.
The oldest Catholic diocese in the U.S. long faced scrutiny
The Archdiocese of Baltimore, which is the oldest Roman Catholic diocese in the country and spans much of Maryland, has long faced scrutiny over its handling of abuse allegations.
In 2002, Cardinal William Keeler, who served as Baltimore archbishop for nearly two decades, released a list of 57 priests accused of sexual abuse, earning himself a reputation for transparency at a time when the nationwide scope of wrongdoing remained largely unexposed. That changed, however, when Keeler was named in a sweeping Pennsylvania grand jury report. The 2018 report presented extensive evidence of a far-reaching coverup that often involved transferring accused clergy to other parishes instead of holding them accountable.
In Keeler's case, the grand jury accused him of covering up sexual abuse allegations while serving as bishop of Harrisburg in the 1980s. Keeler later allowed the accused clergy member, now-defrocked John G. Allen, to transfer to Baltimore and continue working. Not long after the report became public, church officials announced the archdiocese was changing its plans to name a new Catholic school after Keeler, who had died the previous year.
A 2017 Netflix documentary also placed a spotlight on abuse claims against the late priest A. Joseph Maskell, who taught at a Catholic high school in Baltimore in the 1960s and '70s. Detectives exhumed his body several years ago while investigating the still unsolved cold case homicide of Catherine Ann Cesnik, a nun who disappeared from a Baltimore shopping center in 1969. She was teaching at the same high school as Maskell at the time of her slaying.
Maskell died in 2001.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.