Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Pa. high court taps ex-Sandusky judge to oversee redaction of Catholic clergy sex abuse report

The court said it intended to appoint a special master so it could remain impartial while it hears arguments in the case.

The Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg.  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
The Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)Read more(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

HARRISBURG — A senior judge known for his work — and ultimate recusal — on the Jerry Sandusky case has been appointed to oversee the planned redactions to a controversial grand jury report outlining decades of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy across the state.

The state Supreme Court, in a two-sentence order Monday, appointed Judge John M. Cleland of McKean County to serve as a special master in the clergy abuse case. The court offered no insight into how it selected Cleland.

As special master, Cleland will preside over any legal disputes regarding redactions to the more than 800-page report documenting sexual abuse and cover-ups in six Catholic dioceses across the state. It is expected to be released next month.

The report's release has been the subject of intense legal wrangling in recent weeks, much of it under seal. Lawyers for roughly two dozen current and former clergy members have asked the high court to block the release of portions of the report pertaining to them, saying that the sections are inaccurate or unfairly tarnish their clients' reputations.

The court on Friday ordered a redacted copy of the report released while it weighs larger arguments pertaining to that group of clergy members.

In recent weeks, the state Supreme Court has ordered that redacted versions of some arguments in the case should be released, with Cambria County Judge Norman Krumenacker — who supervised the grand jury's work — serving as arbiter for disputes about whether secret grand jury material had been properly shielded from public view.

But when the high court ordered the release of a redacted grand jury report, it was critical of Krumenacker's recent orders — questioning whether he had sufficiently addressed some of the clergy members' concerns.

In that order, the court announced plans to appoint a special master to handle disputes over redactions to the grand jury report. The justices wanted to "continue to proceed with the unwavering objective that fairness must be consistently administered to all parties in the context of grand jury reports," Chief Justice Thomas Saylor wrote on behalf of the court.

The court ordered Attorney General Josh Shapiro's office, which led the investigation, to present a proposed redacted version of the report to Cleland by Friday afternoon. Lawyers for the clergy members will have until the afternoon of Aug. 7 to challenge any redactions. If they don't, the report will be released Aug. 8. If they do file challenges, Cleland has until Aug. 14 to sort through those arguments and release a redacted report.

Cleland, 70, has frequently been praised by colleagues for his measured demeanor while presiding over contentious, emotionally fraught cases. He came out of retirement to preside over the Sandusky sex abuse trial but recused himself when the coach's lawyers questioned his impartiality — accusations that Cleland considered groundless.

Cleland also played a key role in the investigation into the "kids-for-cash" scandal in Luzerne County that sent two judges to jail in 2011.