Josh Shapiro’s Grand Kangaroo Court Has Not Served Justice in Pennsylvania

A civilization that has little regard to the cardinal virtue of justice is a civilization in trouble. Of all the natural, acquired moral virtues, this one is the most foundational in the governing of any society.

American jurisprudence has noble foundations in English Common Law, which itself has foundations in the deeper legal and philosophical roots of Christendom, where the medieval legal theory of the scholastics gave us sound principles and procedures for criminal and civil law, as well as for ecclesiastical (canon) law.

But legal positivism, liberal ideology, rogue judges who legislate from the bench, legislators who do not heed the natural law, and civil servants who disregard deeper purposes of the positive law, have slowly eroded what was once a very admirable system.

The traditional gold standard of American criminal law is “innocent until proven guilty.” Where is it in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report?

Nowhere, because that report did not establish anyone’s guilt.

Dave Pierre of The Media Report debunks the notion that grand jury reports are reliable sources of fact. So does Bill Donohue, of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Both of these gentleman do an admirable job of showing what a horrible travesty the publication of this report was.

Lest my intentions here be misunderstood, let me make it clear that, unlike Messrs. Pierre and Donohue, I have no intention to champion the cause of Cardinal Wuerl. And it is possible that some number of the accused are guilty of the accusations made in the grand jury report, but we really do not know. Cardinal Wuerl and the other accused who are still alive are entitled to due process, that is, to justice.

Which is not what Josh Shapiro is giving them — or the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, for that matter.

Consider this. With a grand jury, there is:

  1. No right to counsel;
  2. No right to cross examination;
  3. No judge, just the prosecutor, the foreman, and the members; and
  4. No requirement of unanimity. A simple majority is all that is necessary for an indictment, and the report upon which the indictment is based.

The grand jury process is so utterly one-sided that the late Solomon Wachtler, Chief Justice of the New York State Court of Appeals, once famously observed that “a District Attorney could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.”

Shapiro’s grand jury investigating the Church did not produce indictments and did not find anyone guilty. In fact, as Dave Pierre pointed out, “Shapiro’s report (and yes, it’s really Shapiro’s report, not a ‘grand jury report’) does not recommend a single criminal charge.” There are two reasons for this: (1) the statute of limitations expired on most allegations, and (2) the grand jury had no credible evidence of alleged incidents in the last twelve years, which is the statutory limit for the prosecution of so-called major sexual offenses in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

One might reason that the statute of limitations should be legislated away, making sexual crimes against minors like murder charges, which have no such limits. That may or may not be reasonable, but the legislation that is being promoted to do just that in Pennsylvania specifically excludes public schools, which are exempted by “sovereign immunity.” 

There is a word for that: hypocrisy. Especially when the sexual violation of minors is a known problem in public schools.

Bill Donohue says something worth quoting about public schools and the statute of limitations:

In most states, public school students have 90 days to report an offense. That’s it. Which means it is too late for a student raped by a public school teacher to file suit if the crime occurred this year at the start of the baseball season. Public institutions are governed under the corrupt doctrine of sovereign immunity, and few politicians have the courage to challenge it.

In the few instances where states have included the public schools in such legislation, guess who goes bonkers? The public school establishment. The teachers’ unions, school superintendents, principals—they all scream how utterly unfair it is to roll back the clock and try to determine if the accused is guilty of an offense that took place decades ago. They are right to do so; lucky for them they are rarely called to  action.

The reason we have statutes of limitation is because many witnesses are either dead or their memories have faded. The public school industry understands the importance of this due process measure, and rightfully protests when it is in jeopardy. So why is it that when bishops make the exact same argument, they are condemned for obstructing justice? The hypocrisy is nauseating.

In summary, grand jury reports are not, and are not intended to be, authoritative, comprehensive, definitive and objective investigations of criminal conduct. They are prosecutorial tools, prepared by prosecutors, not the grand jurors, to meet the legal standard of probable cause, in order to secure an indictment.

Grand jury reports are lists of unverified and unproven accusations, which are either to be used for an indictment or discarded.

In the past, the leaking of grand jury reports was a kind of sore loser strategy. If you could not indict someone, you could defame him. Now, instead of being leaked, the reports are formally and publicly released, in an exercise in state sponsored agitprop.

Priests who sexually violate minors must be brought to justice. And bishops who shield or enable such priests must also be brought to justice — but justice, not a haphazard, bigoted simulacrum of it. Personally, I strongly favor terrifyingly harsh penalties for these monstrous crimes — in the Church as well as in the State — but guilt has to be established first, and that is not what Josh Shapiro’s grand kangaroo court has done.

Note: Mr. C.J. Doyle, of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, contributed extensively to this piece.