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Baltimore seals documents related to clerical sexual abuse report

December 6, 2022 Catholic News Agency 1
A view of Baltimore’s Basilica nestled amid the city’s famed row houses / Public domain

St. Louis, Mo., Dec 6, 2022 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

A judge in Baltimore this week ordered all proceedings, filings, and communications related to the release of a major attorney general’s report on clerical sexual abuse to be made confidential. 

Judge Anthony Vittoria of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City issued a confidentiality ruling Dec. 2 in response to a request from an anonymous group of people named in the report but who were not accused of abuse, the Baltimore Sun reported.

At issue is a 456-page report compiled by the office of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, consisting of information given by the Archdiocese of Baltimore along with information gathered from interviews that claims to identify more than 600 victims of clerical abuse in the archdiocese dating back eight decades. It is currently unclear whether the report will lead to any new criminal charges.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore, which is paying the legal fees for the anonymous group of individuals, said it “does not and will not oppose the report’s release.”

“We stated this fact last week, when we also pledged to support the rights of some people who are mentioned in the report but not accused of abuse — and were not given the ability to respond to the attorney general during the investigation,” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said in a Dec. 2 statement.

“Now they deserve to be heard by the court, and we will pay their legal fees to ensure they are heard. I find it necessary to clarify this fact, which we openly stated after Attorney General Frosh publicly released his motion requesting permission from the court to release his office’s report. This does not mean the archdiocese will in any way seek to keep the report from being made public, as some have suggested.”

In a 35-page legal motion dated Nov. 17, Frosh had asked permission from a judge to release the documents provided by the archdiocese, which were given in response to a January 2019 subpoena from a grand jury. Vittoria’s ruling retroactively seals all previous filings in the matter, including that motion to disclose the report, the Sun reported. 

Going forward, the legal processes of releasing the full report will not be disclosed to the public because of the confidentiality order. Should the full report be released, it will likely be redacted. 

Lori apologized to victims of abuse in a November letter and reiterated the archdiocese’s current zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse.

“Upon reading today’s motion, we feel renewed shame, deep remorse, and heartfelt sympathy, most especially to those who suffered from the actions of representatives of the very Church entrusted with their spiritual and physical well-being,” Lori said in a Nov. 17 statement.

“The information contained in the motion will no doubt be a source of renewed pain for many, most especially those harmed by representatives of the Church, for the lay faithful of our archdiocese, as well as for many good priests, deacons, and religious,” Lori said.

“Ever-aware of the pain endured by survivors of child sexual abuse, I once again offer my sincere apologies to the victim-survivors who were harmed by a minister of the Church and who were harmed by those who failed to protect them, who failed to respond to them with care and compassion and who failed to hold abusers accountable for their sinful and criminal behavior,” Lori added.

Frosh says the report names 115 priests who were prosecuted for sexual abuse and/or identified publicly by the archdiocese as having been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse. It also includes an additional 43 priests — 30 of whom are deceased, and the identities of the rest redacted — accused of sexual abuse “but not identified publicly by the archdiocese,” for a total of 158 names.

The archdiocese’s online list of credibly accused clergy includes 152 names, including many priests from other dioceses or religious orders and 17 religious brothers who served in or had a connection to the archdiocese, the Catholic Review reported. The list was last updated in June.

Addressing the apparent discrepancy between the number of priests named in the attorney general’s report and the number of credibly accused priests listed by the archdiocese, Lori said that the archdiocesan list does not include the names of priests or brothers who died before a single accusation of child abuse was received, unless the allegation could be corroborated by a third party or unless a second allegation was made against the same deceased cleric.

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Why Baltimore? Here’s the reason U.S. bishops meet there every year

November 15, 2022 Catholic News Agency 3
A view of Baltimore’s Basilica nestled amid the city’s famed row houses / Public domain

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 15, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The bishops of the United States are meeting this week for their fall assembly in Baltimore. They’re gathering to elect a new president and discuss issues facing the Church such as the Ukraine war and the Synod on Synodality, among other things. 

In the early days of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in the early 2000s, the bishops held their fall meeting in Washington D.C. — a location that makes a lot of sense, given Washington’s status as the nation’s capital, as well as the city where the USCCB is headquartered. 

But since 2006, the bishops’ fall assembly has been held in nearby Baltimore. 

But what’s so special about Baltimore? For American Catholics, quite a lot.

For starters, Baltimore was the first diocese in the United States, having been established as such in 1789 and elevated to an archdiocese in 1808. Before its establishment, Catholics in the young United States were under the jurisdiction of the Apostolic Vicariate of the London District in England. 

Maryland, at the time, was the most Catholic of the 13 colonies, having been founded by Catholic colonists wishing to create a society where they could practice their faith. The territory of the Diocese of Baltimore originally included the entire fledgling country. 

John Carroll was chosen as Baltimore’s first bishop, and thus the de facto leader of Catholics in the U.S. A cousin of Charles Carroll — the sole Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence — Carroll’s tenure as bishop led to many Catholic firsts. In 1791 he founded the first seminary in the country, and he ordained the first priest in the U.S. in 1793. Carroll laid the cornerstone for the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore’s present co-cathedral, in 1806. In 1809, the future St. Elizabeth Ann Seton arrived in Baltimore and started the country’s Catholic school system. 

Though several other dioceses in important cities such as New York, Boston, and Bardstown (now Louisville) would be established after 1808, Baltimore would remain the only archdiocese in the country until 1846. The Archdiocese of Washington was not created until the 20th century. 

In 1858, the Vatican issued a decree granting the right of precedence in the United States to the Archbishop of Baltimore. This means that the Archbishop of Baltimore takes precedence over all other American archbishops — cardinals excluded — in councils, gatherings, and meetings of the hierarchy regardless of seniority, the archdiocese explains. 

In addition to being “first,” Baltimore has historically played an important role in hosting councils and meetings in the U.S. According to the archdiocese, the first Baltimore synod was held in 1791 when 22 priests met with Bishop Carroll to draw up guidelines for the practice of the faith by the clergy and laity, and later synods took on a national character since the diocese was the only one in the country. Most notably, plenary councils of all the country’s bishops were held in Baltimore in 1852, 1866, and 1884. One enduring effect of the last plenary council was setting in motion the process to create the Baltimore Catechism, which was the primary teaching document in U.S. Catholic schools for nearly a century. 

According to the archdiocese, Baltimore today “enjoys a position of importance in the American Church as a leading center of ecumenical, social and civic progress, along with being one of the prime locations for priestly formation in the United States.”

Given all this history in Baltimore, it’s not too surprising that the bishops’ annual fall assembly was moved to Baltimore in 2006. 

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