Pa. Supreme Court enables toxic secrets in priest sex scandal | Editorial

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro says he will fight the Supreme Court’s suppression of a priest sex abuse report.

Just as a grand jury was about to release an 800-page report detailing allegations of  sexual abuse by priests and Catholic Church coverups, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court chose to keep it a secret.

Over the last two years, dozens testified in secret before the grand jury which examined abuse allegations in every diocese in the state except for Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown, which have already been the subjects of criminal probes.   According to court documents made public, the victims were raped and molested. They have waited long enough to tell their stories.

For decades, the alleged abusers were able to hide behind a cloak of secrecy to commit sickening crimes. Now the state’s highest court is prolonging the victims’ suffering by suppressing the report.

>> READ MORE: Pa. Supreme Court blocks release of grand jury report into clergy sex abuse

Attorney General Josh Shapiro was not expected to charge anyone criminally. But the report itself is a powerful document. It would acknowledge the pain of so many who have been forced to suffer alone — and  demand accountability from the abusers and their protectors.

The report also follows the path blazed by former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham and repeated in jurisdictions throughout the country. She issued her grand jury report in 2005 detailing the abuse, even though the crimes it alleged were too old for criminal charges.

“The important thing for me is that the stories be told,” she said. “The stories were so important, the crimes so astoundingly cruel, and the church willfully and intentionally covered it up. “

Abraham’s work signaled to prosecutors that they had a responsibility to investigate similar allegations in their communities. And, it laid the groundwork for a second probe here in 2011, which resulted in the arrests of four priests.

During the course of his investigation, Shapiro charged two Western Pennsylvania priests with abusing children. He has said little about his probe other than that he expected to speak publicly about it this month.  Now,  with powerful forces wanting to keep their secrets, it’s unclear if that can happen.

The Supreme Court did not explain its decision. In an unusual move, justices did not put their names on the opinion.

The names of those fighting the release of the report are hidden as well. We don’t know if they are the same people fighting a state law that would extend the statute of limitations so older victims could sue the institutions that cover up child abuse.

The court should order those fighting the release to argue their points in public. The victims and the public should know who would deny the victims justice. It could be any one of the institutions named in the report or the hundreds of church and public figures said to be implicated in this scandal.

The bishops whose dioceses are under investigation said they wouldn’t  stand in the way of the report.

Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie  issued a statement saying, “The grand jury investigation and its report will provide a voice for the victims. We must listen to that voice and learn from it.”

He’s right.

Supreme Court justices have a responsibility to the victims, and to the public at large, to unshroud the secrets that have damaged so many lives.