By Masooma Haq
Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown has finally released a report detailing eight decades of alleged sexual abuse by more than 150 Catholic priests and others associated with the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The current or former clergy, seminarians, deacons, religious, teachers, and other Archdiocesan employees preyed on at least 600 children, the report said.
“This Report illustrates the depraved, systemic failure of the Archdiocese to protect the most vulnerable—the children it was charged to keep safe,” said Brown in a press release (pdf). “This Report shines a light on this overwhelming tragedy, and it was the courage of the survivors that made it possible.”
Released on April 5, the attorney general’s report reveals not only the immense scope and scale of abuse but also the Archdiocese’s efforts to hide the abuse, which was brought to light after subpoenaing hundreds of thousands of documents going back to the 1940s.
The report includes material gathered from hotlines set up for reporting purposes, victim and witness interviews, open-source media, documents provided by the Archdiocese in response to grand jury subpoenas, and reporting letters from the Archdiocese.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore encompasses much of the state of Maryland. In addition to Baltimore, it includes Allegheny, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Howard, and Washington counties.
“The staggering pervasiveness of the abuse itself underscores the culpability of the Church hierarchy,” the report said (pdf). “The sheer number of abusers and victims, the depravity of the abusers’ conduct, and the frequency with which known abusers were given the opportunity to continue preying upon children is astonishing.”
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said they hope the public will read the attorney general’s report to better understand how the abuse was perpetrated and allowed to continue for so long, and to encourage other victims to step forward.
“This report goes back as far as 80 years, so this is a good picture of historical abuse. But we’re most concerned about recent and ongoing abuse, and we hope that this news will encourage anyone who has been hurt by clergy in Maryland to come forward and get help,” SNAP wrote in an April 5 statement.
SNAP said the goal of the report should be to protect children by identifying and holding key “powerful figures” accountable for supporting abusers.
Current Baltimore Archbishop William Lori apologized to the victims and their families, saying the abuse is “reprehensible,” and that victims will not be ignored or forgotten.
“The detailed accounts of abuse are shocking and soul-searing. It is difficult for most to imagine that such evil acts could have actually occurred,” Lori said in a written statement. “For victim-survivors everywhere, they know the hard truth: These evil acts did occur.”
Lori added that standards for reporting and investigating sex abuse have improved. “Having spent four years investigating the Archdiocese, former Attorney General Brian Frosh signaled that the cultural changes, child protection policies, and accountability measures the Archdiocese began implementing more than a generation ago have proven successful,” he said, adding, “Make no mistake, however: today’s strong record of protection and transparency does not excuse past failings that have led to the lasting spiritual, psychological and emotional harm victim-survivors have endured.”
Until recently, “church officials who received complaints of abuse behaved no better. Time and again, bishops and other leaders in the church displayed empathy for the abusers that far outweighed any compassion shown to the children who were abused,’ the report stated.
Last month, the Maryland legislature passed Senate Bill 686 (.pdf), to end the state’s statute of limitations on abuse-related civil lawsuits. Governor Wes Moore said he supports the new legislation, which will allow those victims whose abusers are still alive to seek justice.
Currently, victims of child sex abuse in Maryland can’t sue after they turn 38. The measure, if passed, will eliminate the age limit and allow for retroactive lawsuits under certain circumstances.
The attorney general’s report mainly focuses on the years from the 1940s to 2002, and shows that certain parishes had multiple abusers. For example, St. Mark Parish in Catonsville had eleven child abusers living and working there from 1964 to 2004, according to the report.
The report also details how some clergy were not prosecuted after being caught or admitting to abusing children, but moved to other parishes or facilities by church leaders. Many of those clergy eventually retired with financial support from the Archdiocese.
Although federal and state sex abuse laws have improved over the years, the Baltimore Archdiocese’s internal process was still flawed, including an incomplete public list of abusers, and investigations done by clergy who were not trained as investigators and were not independent of the church, said the report.
Former Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh launched the initial investigation into the case in 2018. In 2022, he filed a motion with the Baltimore Circuit Court to make the report public. The report was not released immediately because it included information obtained from church officials by way of grand jury subpoenas, which are confidential in Maryland.
The report includes a disclaimer stating “the accusations described in this Report do not constitute findings of guilt.”