HARRISBURG — In the intense, lengthy, and high-profile legal battle over the blistering report on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania, one group's voice has been largely unheard: the grand jurors who signed off on it.
But in an unusual court filing — first sealed, and since made public by the state's highest court — many grand jury members who spent two years investigating decades of abuse by priests in six dioceses unanimously declared that their full and unredacted report should be released.
On Aug. 6, as a state Supreme Court fight over the report was raging, the panel filed its own brief. Using strong language, it lodged their objections to any attempts to "censor, alter, redact or amend" the document.
They said they examined an "overwhelming amount of evidence" of abuse, including internal church documents that had been kept secret. They wrote that they solicited and received written or in-person testimony from bishops from all six dioceses. And, they said, they heard from victims — most of whom testified they had notified their pastors, bishops, or dioceses about the abuse.
"We listened as they poured out their hearts telling of the agony and torment they endured since being victimized," 20 of the panel's members wrote. "They had waited so long to be heard; they deserve to be heard and validated."
The three-page brief filed by the grand jurors doesn't list its signatories' names; like the testimony they hear and their deliberations, grand jurors' identities are kept secret. None has since spoken publicly. The filing was initialed by the panel's foreman.
Like most documents in the case, it was filed first under seal, inaccessible to the public. The justices unsealed it Aug. 14 — the same day they said a redacted copy of the grand jury report would be made public.
The nearly 900-page document implicated more than 300 priests and their superiors in the Dioceses of Pittsburgh, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Allentown, and Scranton. Its impact, and the assertion that more than 1,000 children were victimized over seven decades, has rippled worldwide.
But dozens of pages related to allegations and individuals were blacked out. Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office ran the investigation, has advocated for the full report's ed release.
Next month, the justices are scheduled to weigh arguments by unnamed clergy members who have petitioned the high court to keep their names from becoming public, contending the investigation stripped them of their due process rights and that the report contains inaccuracies or unfairly smeared their reputations. Among other things, some petitioners have argued they deserved to cross-examine grand jury witnesses, a process that's not currently allowed.
The grand jurors, in their filing, called such a position "offensive." They went on: "The Roman Catholic Church had their chance and chose not to properly investigate the abuse claims at the time the allegations were made."