Citing due process, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday wrote that the names of 11 former and current priests in a grand jury report on allegations of clerical sexual abuse of minors are to remain permanently redacted.
The 11 names will be kept redacted as “the only viable due process remedy … to protect their constitutional rights to reputation,” Justice Debra Todd wrote in the court’s Dec. 3 majority opinion.
More than 300 priests were named in the report.
“We acknowledge that this outcome may be unsatisfying to the public and to the victims of the abuse detailed in the report. While we understand and empathize with these perspectives, constitutional rights are of the highest order, and even alleged sexual abusers, or those abetting them, are guaranteed by our Commonwealth’s Constitution the right of due process.”
Article 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution enshrines a person’s right to possess and protect their good reputation, placing it on the same footing as life and liberty.
Six of court’s justices were joined in the majority opinion, while Chief Justice Thomas Saylor filed a dissenting opinion.
Several individuals named in the report, including some priests, have objected to being included in the document. They argued that the grand jury report links their names to terrible crimes or cover-up efforts, but that they had not been afforded the chance to respond to allegations made against them, or given the benefit of due process of law.
A redacted version of the report was released on August 14. It detailed sexual abuse allegations in six of Pennsylvania’s eight Latin-rite dioceses, following an 18-month investigation into thousands of alleged instances of abuse spanning several decades.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro responded to the Supreme Court’s decision saying it “allows predator priests to remain in the shadows and permits the Church to continue concealing their identities,” and that “the public will not relent in its demand that anyone involved in this widespread abuse and cover up be named.”
The grand jury report was adopted and issued by the grand jury, but its text was drafted by Shapiro’s office.
In his dissent, Saylor argued that the petitioners’ due process concerns could be remedied by having a judge conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine whether disputed matters in the report were supported by the evidence.
This suggestion was rejected by the majority of the court because they held it is not authorized by the statute governing Pennsylvania’s grand juries, and because the supervising judge would be evaluating diverging types of evidence.
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