HARRISBURG — The state Supreme Court’s decision to temporarily block the release of a state grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse has intensified “the emotional trauma of being silenced as a youth,” a Lancaster County victim said in a court document filed Friday.
Todd Frey said in the filing that he testified before the grand jury that he was abused by a priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg as a child in the 1980s. That experience, he wrote through his lawyer, was “validating” and “proof that the levels of power had heard him and were taking seriously what had been done to him and so many others.”
Frey’s filing landed on a day of extraordinary activity in a matter that has reached a rarely seen level of legal wrangling. After his plea, the Supreme Court said it would expedite a decision on whether to release the highly anticipated document, which is expected to detail clergy sexual abuse in six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses.
The court set a tight schedule for written arguments in the case from the unnamed clergy seeking to block release of the report and the state Attorney General’s Office, which conducted the grand jury investigation. It also established a procedure to make public portions of those discussions, which until now have unfolded in secret.
In his filing Friday, Frey invoked Pope Francis, who during his visit to Philadelphia in 2015 said, “I continue to be ashamed that persons charged with the tender care of those little ones abused them and caused them grave harm. I deeply regret this. God weeps. The crimes and sins of sexual abuse of minors may no longer be kept secret.”
“Mr. Frey was one of those many ‘little ones’ of whom Pope Francis spoke,” wrote Frey’s attorney, Charles L. Becker of Kline & Specter in Philadelphia, adding: “Like the pope, Mr. Frey asks that the crimes committed against him and against other victims across the commonwealth no longer be shrouded in secrecy.”
Mike Barley, spokesperson for the Diocese of Harrisburg, would not discuss the specifics in Frey’s court filing, including Frey’s accusation that he told officials at the diocese about the abuse but that they failed to report it to law enforcement and told him to stay quiet.
Barley did describe the priest, the Rev. Guy Marsico, as a known “child predator,” and added, “It is tough for us to comment beyond that without further looking into the matter.” Marsico could not be reached for comment Friday.
The court filings have come amid an effort by nine news organizations, including the Inquirer and Daily News and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to force the report’s release. Lawyers for the organizations have called the document a “matter of extraordinary public importance.”
On Friday, they argued in separate court papers that state law requires the public release of the report.
Eli Segal and Michael A. Schwartz, the Pepper Hamilton LLP lawyers representing the news outlets, said they are not seeking access to secret grand jury material, simply the final product of its two-year-long investigation into the matter.
Attorneys for unnamed clergy members who are challenging the news media’s request argued earlier this week that releasing the report would unjustly tarnish their clients’ reputations. Segal and Schwartz called that argument “a straw man.”
The Supreme Court did not directly address the media’s case Friday.
Segal and Schwartz said Friday that the justices could order the release of a redacted copy of the report without damaging the reputation of anyone who has a challenge pending.
The grand jury report was expected to be released by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro last month. But a group of unnamed individuals blocked the move by filing sealed challenges last month to the state’s highest court.
The petitioners have argued that they have a right to their reputation under the state constitution that would be trampled by unfettered release of the attorney general’s two-year investigation into alleged clergy sexual abuse. They also have questioned the conclusions drawn by the statewide grand jury that heard the evidence and produced the more-than-800-page report; and asserted that their due process rights have been ignored.
In response, the Supreme Court last month agreed to temporarily halt the report’s public release, a move that generated anger and criticism from dozens of victims who testified before the grand jury and who fear they again will find their voices silenced.
The media organizations late last week asked the high court to lift its temporary stay. However, they said that if the justices needed more time to consider the due process challenges by the unnamed petitioners, they should order the release of a redacted version.
The unnamed petitioners pushed back. This week, their lawyers filed papers to block the news organizations’ requests. In doing so, they provided the first glimpse into who some of the petitioners are — a secret protected by court seal. Although the petitioners were not identified by name, their lawyers described them as a group of current and former members of the clergy.