HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Pennsylvania’s sweeping grand jury report on child sexual abuse in Catholic dioceses is drawing growing attention from prosecutors elsewhere as a court battle looms that could curtail such investigative reports in the future.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Friday that more than 15 state attorneys general and a senior Justice Department official have contacted him about his office’s two-year investigation, what child advocates have called the biggest of its kind by a state into church cover-ups of abusive clergymen.
Their questions revolve around the “nuts and bolts” of how Pennsylvania conducted its investigation and specific people named in Pennsylvania’s report who ended up in their jurisdiction, Shapiro said. They also asked about the resources necessary to conduct such an investigation, he said.
New York and New Jersey launched new investigations into the Catholic Church’s handling of clergy sex abuse allegations Thursday, while attorneys general in Nebraska, Illinois and Missouri have announced investigations into allegations involving local dioceses.
On Friday, Rhode Island attorney general’s office said it is reviewing the investigative methods and legal avenues used by other states, in particular Pennsylvania and New York.
Many state attorneys general have a narrow scope of criminal investigative authority, unless a local prosecutor refers a case to them. That’s ultimately how Pennsylvania’s grand jury investigation began.
Pennsylvania’s investigation included subpoenas that secured a half-million pages of diocese records going back decades. The grand jury of 23 people heard from dozens of witnesses, according to court records, and had the help of two FBI agents from the agency’s profiling division.
At the peak of the investigation, more than 50 agents, lawyers and other employees of the attorney general’s office were working on the case, Shapiro said.
“This was a very complex, labor-intensive investigation,” Shapiro said.
During it, the office fought efforts in court by two dioceses, Greensburg and Harrisburg, to shut down the investigation. Those court records were under seal until recently. Those dioceses have said they felt the investigation should have been handled by county prosecutors.
Another court battle is approaching.
On Sept. 26, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments by lawyers for people identifying themselves only as current and former clergymen who don’t want to be named in the grand jury report.
For the time being, they won a ruling ordering their names to be blacked out in the nearly 900-page report issued Aug. 14. Their identities remain under court seal while their lawyers argue that they have a constitutional right to appear before the grand jury, present evidence favorable to themselves and be heard by a neutral judge before being named.
In court papers filed Tuesday, their lawyers argued that due process is impossible for their clients, criticizing the report as intended to unfairly shame them and Shapiro’s “incessant media campaign” as designed to undermine their arguments and whip up public hostility.
They also contended that laws in many other states recognize the “constitutional hazards” of identifying people in a grand jury report who are not charged and prohibit the practice.
Shapiro attacked the court challenge as one that could ultimately limit his office’s authority to conduct such grand jury investigations at a time other states’ prosecutors want that same authority.
“You have these petitioners going to court to take away my authority to conduct grand jury investigations like this, to make it so the balance of power is tilted back in favor of powerful institutions,” Shapiro said.