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Justice

Survivors of sexual abuse by priests applaud Frosh court filing seeking to release report on coverup

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) arrives at the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in 2019. Getty Images photo by Win McNamee.

A group representing Marylanders sexually abused by priests applauded Attorney General Brian Frosh’s bid to make public a new report that catalogues the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore’s efforts to protect abusers.

In a motion filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court on Thursday, Frosh (D) sought permission to release a 463-page report that his investigators have compiled. The report, “Clergy Abuse in Maryland,” relies on “hundreds of thousands of documents dating back to the 1940s,” the attorney general’s office said. The documents were provided by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in response to grand jury subpoenas.

“For decades, survivors reported sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests and for decades the Church covered up the abuse rather than holding the abusers accountable and protecting its congregations,” Frosh wrote in his court filing. “The Archdiocese of Baltimore was no exception.”

On Friday afternoon, the Baltimore Sun reported that church officials will not oppose the release.

“The archdiocese does not object to the release of a report which accurately details the heinous crime and sin of child sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the clergy and also fairly and accurately details how the archdiocese responded to such allegations, even when the response fell far short of how such allegations are handled today,” church spokesperson Christian Kendzierski wrote in an email.

Frosh’s probe into allegations of sexual abuse by priests began in 2019, not long after Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) released a scathing report on abuse and cover-up activity in the Keystone State. In his motion, Frosh noted that Shapiro’s report “revealed that the late Cardinal William Keeler, long-time Archbishop of Baltimore, was engaged in covering up sexual abuse.”

The report identifies 115 priests who have been “prosecuted for sex abuse and/or identified publicly by the Archdiocese as having been ‘credibly accused’ of sexual abuse,” according to Frosh. An additional 43 priests who have been accused of sexual abuse but not publicly identified are listed as well.

The attorney general said “hundreds” of Marylanders have suffered physical and emotional abuse. Most were children, some as young as preschool, but many young adults were also preyed upon and “tortured” as well.

One congregation had 11 abusive priests over a 40-year period. Another had multiple abusers simultaneously. “The sexual abuse was so pervasive that victims were sometimes reporting sexual abuse to priests who were perpetrators themselves,” according to the motion.

“Now is the time for reckoning,” he declared.

One survivor said in an interview she was shocked” to learn that the attorney general’s office had assembled such a voluminous report. “We’ve been let down so many times in the past,” said Teresa Lancaster, a resident of Anne Arundel County. “Finally, something will happen, I think.”

“This is what survivors need,” said Mike McDonnell, national spokesman for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). “They need that validation. … And as community and as a society, we need to know those names.”

The attorney general’s report includes numerous examples in which church leaders failed to act even in instances where priests confessed to abuse. In other instances, predatory priests were moved from one parish to another. At least one priest was removed from service but continued to draw financial support from the church.

In a message to congregants on Thursday, Archbishop William Lori said that while the report represents “a continued source of shame and remorse,” the events described “do not reflect the Archdiocese’s current and decades-long strong pastoral response and handling of allegations of child sexual abuse.”

Lori offered apologies for the “grievous harm” victims suffered, and he said the archdiocese would continue to follow the “zero-tolerance” and strict reporting policies it adopted two decades ago. And officials will continue to offer support to victims who seek it.

“Ever-aware of the pain endured by survivors of child sexual abuse, I once again offer my sincere apologies to the victim-survivors who were harmed by a minister of the Church and who were harmed by those who failed to protect them, who failed to respond to them with care and compassion and who failed to hold abusers accountable for their sinful and criminal behavior,” Lori wrote.

“Upon reading today’s motion, we feel renewed shame, deep remorse and heartfelt sympathy, most especially to those who suffered from the actions of representatives of the very Church entrusted with their spiritual and physical well-being,” he added.

‘What do we do about it?’

Steve Van Grack, a Montgomery County attorney who has represented many survivors of sexual abuse, said Frosh’s report could help the public come to grips with the “magnitude” of the sex abuse scandal.

“If these reports at least bring into public view the magnitude of what’s occurred, people have got to say, ‘wow, how did we get here?,’” he said. “And the real question is: What do we do about it?”

As recently as August, survivors of abuse expressed frustration with the pace of Frosh’s probe. He steadfastly declined to provide updates, citing the need for confidentiality.

The report’s conclusions appeared to validate many of the claims put forward by abuse survivors over countless years. Investigators “uncovered pervasive sexual abuse amongst the priesthood and repeated failure by the Archdiocese to protect the children of Baltimore. Time and again, the Archdiocese chose the abuser over the abused, the powerful over the weak, and the adult over the child.”