State Supreme Court un­der­cuts grand jury

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - — Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette, The Associated Press

The state Supreme Court de­layed the re­lease of a re­port on sex­ual abuse of chil­dren in six Catholic dio­ce­ses.

The state Supreme Court has fi­nally ex­plained its de­ci­sion last week to de­lay the re­lease of a grand jury’s re­port on the sex­ual abuse of chil­dren in six Catholic dio­ce­ses. In part, the court wants to give the law es­tab­lish­ing grand ju­ries the once-over.

It wants to re­view crit­i­cism the grand jury in­cluded about an un­known num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als, de­ter­mine whether they had am­ple op­por­tu­nity to de­fend them­selves and, if it con­cludes their due-process rights were vi­o­lated, pre­sum­ably rule on whether those folks should be kept out of a re­port that’s now hun­dreds of pages long.

The court gave no timetable for vet­ting the re­port, and Supreme Court jus­tices aren’t known for burn­ing the mid­night oil, so an­guished vic­tims who have long waited to tell their sto­ries will just have to keep bid­ing their time.

The court didn’t even prom­ise to re­lease what’s left of the re­port when it’s com­pleted any slic­ing and dic­ing it deems nec­es­sary.

This isn’t the kind of rul­ing that boosts pub­lic trust in the ju­di­ciary. But it is pre­cisely the kind of rul­ing that emas­cu­lates grand ju­ries.

The 40th Statewide In­ves­ti­gat­ing Grand Jury spent about 22 months prob­ing re­ports of child sex­ual abuse by priests in the Pitts­burgh, Greens­burg, Al­len­town, Erie, Har­ris­burg and Scran­ton dio­ce­ses.

Ear­lier this month, as the re­port was about to be re­leased, an un­known num­ber of peo­ple filed se­cret mo­tions with Cam­bria County Pres­i­dent Judge Nor­man A. Kru­me­n­acker III and asked to give tes­ti­mony to the grand jury in the hope of talk­ing the panel out of crit­i­ciz­ing them.

We still don’t know who they are. They could be priests. They might be church of­fi­cials and civil au­thor­i­ties whom the grand jury be­lieves should have done more to in­ves­ti­gate re­ports of abuse go­ing back decades.

Grand ju­ries can crit­i­cize even if they don’t in­dict, and the pe­ti­tion­ers fear for their rep­u­ta­tions.

Yet Judge Kru­me­n­acker, who su­per­vised the grand jury, ruled against them, say­ing a per­son crit­i­cized in the re­port had the op­por­tu­nity un­der state law to pro­vide a writ­ten re­but­tal.

Nei­ther in state statutes nor case law, he said, did he find sup­port for the no­tion that any­one had a right to de­mand an au­di­ence with the grand jury. He noted that the ques­tion had come up in pre­vi­ous cases but with­out any change in the grand jury law.

But do the crit­i­cized in­di­vid­u­als de­serve more than the law al­lows?

At least some of these par­ties ap­pealed to the Supreme Court, which de­cided to bar re­lease of the re­port while it re­views their claims. Its or­der with­hold­ing the re­port came last week, and the court is­sued an opin­ion Mon­day ex­plain­ing its de­ci­sion.

The Supreme Court’s cau­tion might be war­ranted if the grand jury, made up of ci­ti­zens, op­er­ated with­out over­sight.

How­ever, as the Supreme Court noted, state law re­quires the su­per­vis­ing judge to ac­cept a re­port only if he be­lieves it re­flects the ev­i­dence the grand jury re­ceived. Judge Kru­me­n­acker has given the re­port his ap­proval, and he’s op­er­ated within the con­fines of the grand jury law.

There’s no need for the Supreme Court to sec­ond-guess the grand jury and Judge Kru­me­n­acker, to do it un­der the veil of grand jury se­crecy or to do it with­out a dead­line.

Joe Grace, spokesman for state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Josh Shapiro, said those who sought the Supreme Court’s in­ter­ven­tion are try­ing “to per­ma­nently sup­press the voices of vic­tims of wide­spread sex­ual abuse within the Catholic Church.”

To be sure, the Supreme Court does not nor­mally in­ter­fere with grand ju­ries in this way, and its ac­tion sets a bad prece­dent.

If the court mon­keys with the re­port, the pub­lic will be right to won­der whether the full story of child sex abuse in the six dio­ce­ses ever will be told.

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