Role of Bishops Is Now a Focus
of Grand Juries
By SAM DILLON - The New York Times
Prosecutors across the nation have taken investigations
of clerical sexual abuse before more than a dozen grand juries
in recent weeks, stepping up their inquiries into whether
Roman Catholic bishops endangered children by ignoring the
crimes, prosecutors and church officials said.
District attorneys from Phoenix to St. Louis to Long Island
are using the secret grand juries to obtain subpoenas for
personnel records and other records from Catholic dioceses
and to compel the testimony of bishops and priests.
The number of dioceses facing grand jury inquiries appears
to have doubled since the American bishops met last month
in Dallas, where they adopted a policy of zero tolerance against
abusive priests but took no steps to punish bishops and cardinals
who have transferred sexual predators from parish to parish.
Some Catholic legal scholars say the prosecutors are merely
responding to public pressure for action.
The latest escalation came on Monday, when Cincinnati prosecutors
convened a special grand jury whose only responsibility will
be to search for crimes in the church, with no limit on its
tenure, an official familiar with the Ohio inquiry said. The
regular grand juries that have heard accusations against priests
and issued subpoenas for church records in some other cities
have been temporary, less-focused bodies, sitting for only
a few weeks and also hearing evidence on many crimes unrelated
to the church.
Legal analysts said the judicial system has never before
directed such a broad and intensive inquiry against the Catholic
Church. "Nothing like this has happened before, nothing
close to this," said Patrick J. Schiltz, dean of the
law school at St. Thomas University in Minnesota, who has
defended the church in sex abuse cases in the past. He said
some prosecutors were using the grand juries to grandstand.
"That tells what a hot political issue this is right
now," he said.
But Jennifer Joyce, the St. Louis circuit attorney, said
the grand jury there was an overdue effort to penetrate the
secrecy with which the church has shrouded its abusive priests.
Ms. Joyce said the panel was investigating many accusations
that church officials never reported to the authorities and
that came to her attention only when she publicly asked for
victims to come forward.
The St. Louis grand jury recently indicted a former priest
on felony abuse charges. But Ms. Joyce called it "frustrating
that statutes of limitations have expired and some of these
men are out of my grasp."
Frank Keating, the Oklahoma governor whom the bishops named
to oversee a national church-sponsored inquiry into the crisis,
applauded prosecutors for using the grand juries to investigate
those who have besmirched the church's name. In a recent interview,
he said that grand juries should share information with church
investigators and vice versa.
Some prominent Catholics and some legal scholars, though,
say that prosecutors are fishing for votes. Several recent
surveys have shown that Americans are fed up with clerical
abuse and are eager to see bishops held accountable.
"I think we're getting into a trend where we're investigating
an entire faith," said Patrick Scully of the Catholic
League for Religious and Civil Rights, the nation's largest
Catholic anti-defamation group.
A. W. Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk who has written
books about priests and sexuality, said Philadelphia prosecutors
phoned him last week to invite him to offer expert testimony
before the grand jury there. He said that in April the Massachusetts
attorney general's office interviewed him before convening
a special statewide grand jury to investigate the Boston Archdiocese.
"This is very positive for America and for the church
itself," Mr. Sipe said of the grand juries.
In addition to Phoenix; St. Louis; Suffolk County, N.Y.;
Cincinnati; Philadelphia; and Boston, grand juries in Los
Angeles; Dayton, Ohio; Louisville, Ky.; Cleveland; suburban
Baltimore; and York County, S.C., have also heard evidence
and in some cases issued indictments.
In Westchester County, N.Y., a grand jury concluded an inquiry
last month by accusing churches of cover-ups and urging state
lawmakers to eliminate the statute of limitations on child
sexual abuse cases that the panel said had prevented them
from handing up any indictments.
Prosecutors who have convened grand juries to hold bishops
accountable for their lenient handling of abusive priests
are being forced to explore the law books for applicable statutes.
Mr. Keating has said some bishops may be guilty of obstruction
of justice. Some prosecutors appear to be seeking to build
conspiracy cases. Others said they were exploring charges
of endangering the welfare of a child.
In the debate about whether grand juries should be investigating
the church, Prof. G. Robert Blakey of Notre Dame Law School,
said, "I have one foot in both camps."
"No bishop is above the law, and I'd prosecute him for
reckless driving or D.W.I.," he said. But after considerable
study, Mr. Blakey said, he had concluded that bishops who
have ignored priests' sexual crimes and transferred them from
parish to parish acted immorally but broke no laws, and that
some prosecutors are playing to public opinion.
"I have three explanations for these grand juries: politics,
politics, politics," Mr. Blakey said.
But prosecutors in several cities appear to have convened
grand juries to compel the testimony of churchmen. That seems
to be the case in Cincinnati, where the prosecutor, Michael
Allen, has been investigating the Archdiocese of Cincinnati
for three months. Mr. Allen declined to comment yesterday
on the new special grand jury there, but in May he expressed
irritation with the church's attitude.
"We were promised cooperation from the archdiocese in
this investigation and to date we haven't gotten it,"
Mr. Allen said after the archdiocesan chancellor testified
before a grand jury. "What we're getting is an army of
lawyers trying to come up with ways not to cooperate."
Dan Andriacco, a spokesman, said that the Archdiocese of
Cincinnati had been cooperating "as fully as we believe
that we can."
"We don't want to quarrel with the prosecutor's need
to do his job," Mr. Andriacco added. "And the grand
jury seems to be the tool he thinks is necessary."
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company