HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — A judge on Tuesday lifted the veil somewhat on a state grand jury investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse within six of Pennsylvania’s Catholic dioceses, and refused to delay the grand jury report or allow parts of it to be challenged before it is released.
Judge Norman Krumenacker, in an 11-page decision made public, wrote that people whom he did not identify had argued that they have a constitutional due process right to hearings in which they can challenge parts of the grand jury report to protect their reputations before they are named in it.
Krumenacker’s decision can be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Krumenacker, a Cambria County judge who is supervising the state grand jury, did not say what information those unidentified people wanted to challenge or what they may be accused of. Arguments in the case were sealed.
He wrote, however, that the attorney general’s two-year investigation involved allegations of child sexual abuse, failure to report it, endangering the welfare of children, and obstruction of justice by people “associated with the Roman Catholic Church, local public officials and community leaders.”
In rejecting the motion, Krumenacker said that such hearings have never been allowed and would “effectively bring the grand jury process to a halt turning each investigation into a full adjudication.” Krumenacker also wrote that the state has a strong interest in preventing child abuse “by identifying abusers and those individuals and institutions that enable the (abusers) to continue abusing children.”
“The commonwealth’s interest in protecting children from sexual predators and persons or institutions that enable them to continue their abuse is of the highest order,” Krumenacker wrote.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office had argued that the law provides due process by letting people named in a grand jury report review critical parts of the document and provide a written response that is included with the report when it is released publicly, Krumenacker wrote. The investigation involves the Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses.
Shapiro’s office has said it expects to release the report later this month, unless one of the bishops or dioceses tries to delay it or prevent it from becoming public.
The dioceses had earlier agreed not to challenge the release of the report, according to Shapiro’s office and the dioceses.
The investigation followed a 2016 state grand jury report on a scandal in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese.
In his decision Tuesday, Krumenacker wrote that the grand jury had heard from dozens of witnesses, examined numerous exhibits and reviewed over half a million pages of internal documents from the archives of various dioceses.
All current bishops for the dioceses were given an opportunity to testify before the grand jury, Krumenacker wrote.
Only one did: The Erie bishop. The other five chose to submit written statements, Krumenacker wrote.