What can we expect in new Grand Jury report? Former DA reflects on original 2005 report
"We knew there were secret archives because that's the way the church handled abuse," Philadelphia attorney Lynne Abraham said.
It's been 13 years since the content of those secret archives were investigated by the Philadelphia District Attorneys Office. The investigation exposing decades of alleged sexual abuse priests and subsequent cover-ups in the Philadelphia Catholic Church for the first time.
It was all released in a Grand Jury report in 2005. The report set a precedent for the grand jury reports that followed, including the Fortieth Statewide Investigating Grand Jury report on sexual abuse in catholic churchs across the state expected to be released Tuesday.
CBS21 News' Amanda Hoskins sat down with the former Philadelphia District Attorney who spearheaded it all, Lynne Abraham, to talk about how she did it and why.
In the 2005 report, investigators told the grand jury they never expected to find this many lives had been devastated, saying they though the national publicity may had been exaggerated by the media. -- But that all changed once they began their investigation.
"It's such a hypocritical organization, just rife with lies and cover-ups and criminality," Abraham said.
It's an opinion she did not form overnight, but after several years of investigating.
"My intention was to tell the truth. And I believe we found the truth," she said.
Abraham's interest in the church stemmed from brief newspaper articles she had read overtime about allegations of sexual abuse within the church.
As stated in the 2005 Grand Jury report, she wanted to know if there was truth to the allegations.
"It was one of the things I put into a file and after a while I started to think, especially with some of the things that were happening in Louisiana with Father Gother and others, and, I said, 'you know what, I wonder if it is happening here in Philadelphia,'" she said.
After asking around, she says she began to investigate, what she says is, a "particularly opaque group," finding through initial investigation the Diocese of Philadelphia did have a self-documented history of abuse. The 2005 report says the District Attorney's investigation uncovered evidence 120 priests had been accused of sexual assault over 35 years.
"I decided it would be appropriated to empanel a grand jury. The benefit of a grand jury is you can subpoena witnesses. The district attorney, contrary to what people think, cannot subpoena witnesses. You have to go to the court and get the court to agree that you must subpoena witnesses, but with a grand jury, you have subpoena power and you can compel people to testify, even if they don't want to," she explained.
So, Abraham brought together witnesses and subpoenaed documents from what she refers to as the Church's "secret archives." -- Some of the evidence detailed in the final report.
"That's the way the church handled abuse. They would keep files of any complaint and stick it in a secret vault. It was like the vault of no return," she said.
The two-year term of the Grand Jury was not enough to follow the evidence far enough, so, the state empaneled a new grand jury and kept digging.
"I didn't know anything. I was just going to follow the evidence wherever it took me, which is what a good lawyer should do," she said.
The investigation ultimately led to the Grand Jury report released in 2005 after four years. In 2011, another report followed.
"This is probably the single most important thing I've done as district attorney. To do this investigation when everybody told me not to do it, when everybody told me it was none of my business and to stay out of it. And I just disregarded everyone's statements about don't do it because I was there to do the right thing. You have to have a very strong moral compass to do something like this," she said.
In short, that Grand Jury report found the leaders of the archdiocese who handled the allegations weighed protecting the reputations of the church higher than the children. The report concluded that they did not implement practices to investigate allegations and properly respond to them, as many stayed in the ministry and continued abusing children.
"[Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro] could have easily dropped it, 'I've got bigger fish to try, it was started under Kathleen Kane, I'll leave it at that,' But he didn't. Good for him," she said.
Abraham says when she was up at night she thought about how to help people heal. -- Both within the church and outside of it. She says the only way to make things better is to know and be able to correct it. She says if it was kept a secret, nobody would have been able to fix it or understand it.
Tuesday is the deadline for the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court to make public the report into allegations of child sex abuse at the hands of clergy members and efforts to cover it up.
It is the product of a lengthy grand jury investigation into six of Pennsylvania's Roman Catholic dioceses.
The release of the findings has been delayed while some of the people named in the report have launched legal challenges.