Pennsylvania AG Shapiro: New information has surfaced since Catholic sex abuse report
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro had no idea the flood gate he was opening last month, when he went public with a grand jury report on Catholic clergy sexual abuse.
The clergy sexual abuse hotline in the attorney general’s office has been ringing day and night for six weeks, tallying 1,181 new calls as of Thursday, he said.
“As a result of the heroism of the survivors (who testified before the grand jury), more and more survivors are finding voices,” Shapiro said.
He declined to discuss specifics about the deluge of new complaints.
“There has been a lot of useful information, helpful information and information we are working through right now,” he said. “And there has been information about matters we were not aware of.”
Shapiro said he also has fielded calls from attorneys general in 40 other states seeking to launch their own investigations. Within 10 days of the release of the Pennsylvania report, attorneys general in Missouri and Illinois launched investigations. Last week, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette did the same.
Likewise, the U.S. Justice Department has reached out to Pennsylvania’s top prosecutor.
“I had no sense, I did not have any idea what the reaction would be globally or the reaction we would get to our clergy abuse hotline,” Shapiro told the Tribune-Review editorial board on Thursday.
Fallout from the two-year investigation that detailed abuse allegations against 301 “predator priests,” who the grand jury accused of sexually abusing at least 1,000 children over seven decades, and cover-ups by church officials, continued this week.
In Harrisburg, lawmakers faced with the reality that Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations timed out criminal action against all but two of the priests named in the grand jury report weighed proposals to extend the period for filing criminal charges and to create a retroactive, two-year window for survivors timed out of filing civil lawsuits against their abusers.
Many cases in the grand jury report are decades old. Pennsylvania is one of 11 states that have a criminal statute of limitations on child sexual abuse, which Shapiro said prevented efforts to bring criminal charges against most living priests accused in the report.
State lawmakers previously bowed to pressure from lobbyists from the insurance industry and the church opposed to opening up a temporary window for lawsuits in old abuse cases. Shapiro said the grand jury’s report has moved the needle in the other direction.
“I’m feeling optimistic. (Lawmakers) seem to not want to leave town without passing something,” he said.
House members did so on Tuesday, sending such a bill to the Senate for consideration.
While lawmakers weighed proposed legislation in Harrisburg, lawyers for the Attorney General’s office spent Wednesday in Philadelphia arguing before the state Supreme Court for the release of the complete grand jury report. The version released in August blacked out names of about two dozen clergy members challenging the state grand jury law.
Lawyers for the anonymous clergymen contended the report violated their reputational and due process rights because they were not permitted to question their accusers.
It is unclear when the court will rule on the challenges to the grand jury process or if it will take up the attorney general’s offer to reconvene the grand jury to settle those issues.
Shapiro said those challenges were just the latest in a series of roadblocks church leaders tried to put in front of prosecutors seeking to unmask decades of abuse and cover-ups that left predator priests to prey on children.
“I think the grand jury process in Pennsylvania works and due process is built into it,” he said, warning that doing away with the grand jury or curtailing its power would leave Pennsylvanians less safe from powerful institutions.
“Every opportunity (the church) had to do the right thing, every time — from a public relations or legal perspective — they’d do the opposite,” Shapiro said.
He specifically called out the Greensburg and Harrisburg dioceses, saying they fought the grand jury behind the scenes even as they publicly stated support for the report’s release.
Attorney Matt Haverstick, who represents the two dioceses, disputed Shapiro’s characterization of their actions.
“There was never an attempt to prevent a criminal investigation. That’s a flat out lie,” he said. “The reported challenge was who had the jurisdiction to do an investigation.”
The dioceses contended that county district attorneys should have handled the probe, Haverstick said.
The Attorney General’s
Office, with a staff of about 900, dedicated about 150 attorneys, investigators and staff to the two-year grand jury investigation, Shapiro said.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, [email protected] or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.