Correcting What the PA Attorney General Would Not

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This statement corrects a significant misstatement that the Office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General was unwilling to fix in spite of two sources – including the Diocese of Pittsburgh – notifying the Attorney General’ Office of the inaccuracy before the Report was released in Pennsylvania’s Report of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. This statement may be attributed to Ed McFadden, Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s spokesman:

When addressing the source of pain and great suffering experienced by survivors of child-sex abuse or other forms of sexual harassment, getting the facts right is integral to achieving justice and starting the healing process for the survivors. A breach of trust is compounded when those seeking justice fail to defend the rights of all in the process or to get the facts right. 

In May 2018 the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office mailed Cardinal Wuerl portions of the Grand Jury’s Report, which dramatically, disparagingly and, most importantly, incorrectly attributed the phrase “circle of secrecy” to then-Bishop Wuerl of Pittsburgh. The Report stated that the phrase was Bishop Wuerl’s “own words” in “one of the documents we reviewed” and shows how the Church responded to tragic acts of child sexual abuse by clergy.  Those statements and the inferences they seek to create are demonstrably wrong.

The document referenced by the Report contains the hand-written phrase “circle of secrecy.” However, the handwriting does not belong to then-Bishop Wuerl as the writers of the Report mistakenly assumed. Indeed, the Cardinal confirmed the handwriting is not his, and confirmed he neither wrote nor used the phrase while serving as Bishop of Pittsburgh.  When the Cardinal’s legal counsel informed the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office about this error – prior to the Release of the Report – the Attorney General and his Senior Deputy refused to acknowledge the mistake and refused to take any steps to correct the dramatic use and misattribution of the phrase in the Report.  

The Diocese of Pittsburgh, in its Response to the Report, independently confirmed that Bishop Wuerl did not author or use the phrase “circle of secrecy.”  The Diocese also confirmed that the phrase did not relate in any way to efforts by the Church to cover up allegations of abuse, and that the Report used the phrase in a completely different way. As the Diocese’s written response to the Report makes clear, the context of the use of that phrase was that the Diocese would not tolerate secrecy and demanded transparency from the priest in question. The Diocese brought these facts to the Attorney General’s attention before the Grand Jury’s Report was released, but his office again declined to correct the error in the record.

Despite having knowledge of this inaccuracy from two sources, the Attorney General’s Office now attempts to use the phrase to create the wholly inaccurate perception that then-Bishop Wuerl was attempting to cover up allegations of abuse.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court noted in its recent rulings that under Pennsylvania law, prosecutors have “the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate.” Yet, the Attorney General’s stubborn refusal to correct a substantial error – such as the misuse and misattribution of the phrase “circle of secrecy” – is plainly inconsistent with the Pennsylvania Constitution, the Supreme Court’s opinion, and the Grand Jury’s wishes.  The Attorney General’s actions highlight a flawed process, where the prosecutor chose to steer unwaveringly toward a predetermined result without listening to or acting on evidence clearly showing otherwise.

Unfortunately, this is another example that in factual ways large and small the Attorney General’s office was more concerned with getting this Report out than getting it right. Such a focus detracts from the shared goals of protection and healing. As Cardinal Wuerl has made clear, the findings of this Report will create a challenging time for the faithful, the public, but especially the survivors of abuse, their families and loved ones. The focus should be on helping them heal, while also ensuring our most vulnerable are protected. 

In response to certain inquiries that have been made, I reiterate on behalf of the Cardinal, that he took no legal action to block the release of the Report, nor did he join in any of the actions currently pending before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

For additional background, the following documents are available with this release: