The former leader of the Catholic Church in Erie was identified Friday as one of the previously unnamed clergy who asked the state Supreme Court to limit or block the release of a scathing report on clergy sex abuse that identifies or implicates them, according to a new court filing.
Bishop Emeritus Donald Trautman ended his challenge to the report after the office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro agreed to stipulate that several blistering criticisms of the church hierarchy in the document didn't apply to Trautman specifically. In a joint stipulation with prosecutors that was made public, Trautman said he withdrew the petition even though he continues to dispute many of the report's findings.
Trautman, now retired, headed the Erie diocese from 1990 to 2012. He is the first publicly identified petitioner among the nearly two dozen who have appealed to the state Supreme Court on the issue.
He said he decided to drop his appeal after the Supreme Court recently ordered the release of a redacted grand jury report, blacking out all the sections referring to the petitioners while their case was being heard.
The result was that much of the section on the Diocese of Erie would have been blacked out indefinitely, given his overarching role as bishop.
"Because doing so could further injure victims of abuse and because his goal was never to halt publication of the entirety of the Diocese of Erie section of the Report," the bishop dropped his challenge, the stipulation said.
"In doing so, Bishop Trautman is not conceding to the accuracy or the completeness of the Report," but will be making his case in a written rebuttal to the report. State law allows for unindicted persons to respond formally to criticism in grand jury reports.
Shapiro said in a statement: "Bishop Donald Trautman withdrew his appeal, paving the way for the voices of victims from the Erie Diocese to be heard and not subject to redaction. This was the right decision and should serve as a model for others who continue to fight the release of the report."
The stipulation, by withdrawing several implied criticisms of Trautman, also revealed some of the main findings of the two-year grand jury investigation. Among the statements that Shapiro's office said do not specifically refer to Trautman:
A footnote in the stipulation said none of the other petitioners was seeking to block the statements quoted above. The report still contains numerous criticisms.
In a phone interview, Trautman said he shared the report's outrage at sexual abuse by priests and hoped it would help "bring peace to all survivors."
He said he had challenged portions he saw as being inaccurate. In one case, he said the report criticizes him for praising a confirmed predator.
That, he said, came in a letter to a priest being removed from the priesthood — but Trautman said it was quoted out of context. Trautman said he was writing a final letter to a man being removed from the priesthood for committing sexual abuse.
"He was despondent," Trautman said. "I would never condone what he did. That's why I threw him out." But in a 20-year priesthood, "the man did some good in his life."
He added: "I am a pastor of souls, I shepherd the good and the bad."
The petitioners have been challenging the report, which remains sealed, contending that the allegations were false and that it violates the Pennsylvania Constitution's guarantee of the right to a good reputation.
The Supreme Court has authorized the release of a redacted report later this month, with references to the petitioners removed pending hearings into their claims.
Current Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico issued a statement saying he was pleased with his predecessor's decision. "His action will provide a clear voice for the victims, and allow the people of the diocese to have a greater understanding of our history."