Eleven States Now Investigating Catholic Church Abuse Scandal

The vise is tightening on the Catholic Church.

Axios is taking note of the fact that the number of state Attorneys General who have opened investigations into the Catholic Church abuse scandal is quickly expanding:

The Attorney General of Virginia Mark Herring announced Wednesday that his office was launching an “ongoing investigation” into possible sexual abuse and coverups by the Catholic dioceses in the state, the Washington Post reports.

The big picture: Herring is not alone. Since the Pennsylvania grand jury’s bombshell August report of egregious child sex abuse at the hands of Catholic priests, several other allegations of sexual abuse and ignorance on behalf of the Church have come to light. As a result, several other state investigations have followed.

The states investigating

  • Maryland: Attorney General Brian Frosh informed Archbishop William Lori that his office is conducting “an investigation and thorough review” of records relating to child sex abuse from the Church. (Baltimore Sun)
  • Vermont: Attorney General T.J. Donovan has appointed a task force to investigate abuses from a Catholic orphanage detailed by a major BuzzFeed News investigation. (CNN)
  • Michigan: An “independent, thorough, transparent, and prompt” statewide investigation was launched by the Attorney General’s Office. (Detroit Free Press)
  • New Jersey: A task force was created by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to investigate allegations of abuse in the dioceses of New Jersey. (NJ.com)
  • New York: Every Catholic diocese in the state was subpoenaed by the attorney general’s office as part of a civil investigation by the AG’s Charities Bureau. (Washington Post)
  • Nebraska: Three Catholic dioceses were directed by the Attorney General’s Office to hand over 40 years’ worth of abuse allegation records. (Omaha World-Herald)
  • D.C.: Attorney General Karl Racine said his office was investigating sex abuse in the District. (Washington Post)
  • Kentucky: Attorney General J. Michael Brown’s office told The Record that they would soon be “preparing draft legislation that allows for a multi-district/statewide grand jury in Kentucky” to investigate sex abuse.
  • Missouri: Attorney General Josh Hawley opened an investigation led by a veteran sex crimes prosecutor. (The Hill)
  • New Mexico: Attorney General Hector Balderas asked the state’s three Catholic dioceses to turn over records related to abuse allegations by priests. (CBS)

In addition to these states, the Attorneys General of Illinois and Louisiana have stated that they are open to an investigation of some type, and the Federal Government has opened its own investigation and taken the step of notifying Church officials around the country to ensure that any documents in their possession or control regarding the scandal are preserved for possible future subpoenas. This notification, which puts the subject of an investigation on notice and could be grounds for future charges of obstruction if it is not complied with, was sent to all 145 diocese and 32 diocese in the United States, a strong indication of just how sweeping the Federal investigation is likely to be and that it is likely to be an investigation that lasts for a considerable period of time. While it’s not likely that individual Priests would face Federal prosecution simply because the acts they committed fall under the province of state rather than Federal law, it is possible that Diocesean and other church officials could face potential Federal charges for covering up the scandal or moving known predator Priests across state lines notwithstanding their knowledge that these Priests had victimized children. There could also be potential charges related to utilizing tax-free church assets to buy the silence of abuse victims and their families.

While the church abuse scandal goes back decades, and the reports of abuse themselves began becoming public during the Papacy of John Paul II, the scandal itself seemed as if it was over. Both Pope Frances and his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at least paid lip service to the idea that the Church was committed to atoning for what had happened in the past, and Benedict at least did take many affirmative steps in that direction during his Papacy. In the case of Pope Francis, though, there have been questions from the beginning about just how committed he was to uncovering the truth about the abuse scandal and the extent to which he was willing to look the other way regarding charges against some church officials. The most prominent example of that came in the case of Theodore McCarrick, who had served as the Bishop of Metuchen and Newark, New Jersey as well as Washington, D.C. and was later elevated to Cardinal by John Paul II. While there had been whispers about abuse allegations in McCarrick’s past, Francis chose to ignore them and made McCarrick a close adviser on internal church matters. Earlier this year, though, Francis was forced to accept McCarrick’s resignation as the charges against him became public, and allegations have been made that he was aware of the Cardinals past even while bringing him into his inner circle. Additionally, it has become clear that the Pope’s rhetoric on these new revelations was largely empty, especially when a senior Vatican official alleged late last month that both Pope Francis and his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI were aware of the allegations against McCarrick as well as other abuse allegations that were also hidden from the public. Finally, it became clear that Francis has a blind spot when it comes to the issues of sexual abuse by Catholic Priests. Earlier this year, for example, Francis came to the defense of Chilean Bishops when they were accused of having covered up abuse in much the same manner as their fellow Bishops around the world.

In addition to the McCarrick scandal, the Church in the United States has also been dealing with the report issued in August by a Pennsylvania Grand Jury regarding sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the state and the role that Church hierarchy played in covering up those reports by methods such as moving Priests from one Parish to another, or otherwise reassigning them to duties where they would be outside the jurisdiction of local authorities. After several years of investigation, the Grand Jury uncovered more than 300 instances of Priests involved in the abuse of as many as over 1,000 children over the years that the investigation covered. The report found cases of abuse that covered nearly all of the state’s diocese and included actions or omissions by several Bishops and other Church authorities. The most prominent name on that list was Donald Wuerl, who had been the Bishop of Pittsburgh before being promoted to become Archbishop in Washington, D.C. Wuerl was later elevated to Cardinal. Last week, after pressure from several quarters, Pope Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation, although he remains in his position pending appointment of a successor.

If nothing else, this latest announcement of expanded state investigations, combined with the Federal investigation and reports that law enforcement authorities in other nations may be opening investigations of their own, is likely to increase pressure on Church officials to come clean on an abuse scandal that has been allowed to fester for far too long. Whether this will cause the Church to come clean to continue its decades-long coverup remains to be seen.

FILED UNDER: Catholic Church, Crime, Law and the Courts, Religion, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    The Roman Catholic church is under investigation not just in 11 states but in the half the countries with large Catholic presence because the Roman Catholic church made child rape a perk of employment.

    This pope is probably well-meaning, but purging all the pedophiles from the RC would be like trying to purge all the nerds from the Apple campus. Child rape is not an aberration in the Roman Catholic church, it’s central to it across states, across nations, wherever it reaches. If Francis actually got rid of all the rapists and rape-enablers he’d be looking at a severely depopulated church hierarchy, and a whole bunch of churches without priests. And it’s not like people are lining up to be priests.

    It’s rather like Facebook’s dilemma in a way. Facebook made its users into product and that betrayal is the core of the company, there’s no way to ‘reform’ it away. The Roman Catholic church cannot and will not reform itself. A decade from now, two decades, a century from now, priests will still be molesting children and their bosses will still be covering it up unless the RC does away with celibacy and even more importantly allows women into the priesthood.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Whether this will cause the Church to come clean to continue its decades-long coverup remains to be seen.

    Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. For over a millennium the church has been the guardian of the keys to Heaven and was engaged in the business of selling them to the right people for the right price, turning a blind eye whenever it was convenient for them or their patrons.

    Does anyone really expect the leopard to change it’s spots?

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  3. Gustopher says:

    I question the other 39 states. What’s wrong with them?

  4. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    A decade from now, two decades, a century from now, priests will still be molesting children and their bosses will still be covering it up unless the RC does away with celibacy and even more importantly allows women into the priesthood.

    The Church could crack down on child molesters, and still not remove the celibacy or penis requirements of the priesthood, and that would greatly reduce the child rape.

    They don’t have to change their entire religion to reduce this problem.

    They will never eliminate the problem entirely, as any time men have unfettered access to children, some small number will rape those children — whether they are married or not.

  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:
    I disagree. ‘Priest’ is a job. The requirements, among many others, are that you must never have a truly intimate relationship with another person, ever, for as long as you live, and you will never have children.

    No sex.
    No marriage.
    No children.

    Apply those requirements to any applicant pool and the people who remain interested in the job will contain an unusually high percentage of people with serious sexual and interpersonal issues. The job actively excludes normal people because normal people like sex and in general like to form lifelong partnerships with another person.

    In the years since World War II, there has been a substantial reduction in the number of priests per capita in the Catholic Church, a phenomenon considered by many to constitute a “shortage” in the number of priests. From 1980 to 2012, the ratio of Catholics per priest increased globally, with the number of Catholics per priest going from 1,895 to 3,126.”[1]

    In 2014, 49,153 parishes in the world had no resident priest pastor.[2] Between 1970 and 2012, the number of priests declined from 419,728 to 414,313.[2]

    Any time you begin an employee search by eliminating virtually every person with normal sexual and intimacy desires, you have a lousy pool of applicants. Garbage In; Garbage Out. If you removed the conditions that actively exclude normal people you’d have a much more reliable pool of applicants.

  6. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: The Catholic Church could reduce child rape more if they didn’t require celibacy and a penis to be a priest, but there are other steps they can take first that would reduce child rape.

    This might lead to a shortage of priests, and that might push them to other solutions (half-ordained married layperson working under supervision of a priest, etc.), but just not covering up for and protesting the child rapers would be a good first step, and not doctrine changing.

  7. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Asking a religion and it’s faithful to change their doctrine seems a lot less likely to be successful than asking them to stop protecting child rapists.

  8. Tyrell says:

    @Gustopher: The state I am in has a very low number of Catholic churches compared to other areas. That would be one reason. I am in Protestant country. Not all Catholic churches have a problem.
    I don’t look for the Vatican to cooperate very much. And they also will not be helping those dioceses that are in trouble.

  9. Bill says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    This pope is probably well-meaning, but purging all the pedophiles from the RC would be like trying to purge all the nerds from the Apple campus. Child rape is not an aberration in the Roman Catholic church, it’s central to it across states, across nations, wherever it reaches. If Francis actually got rid of all the rapists and rape-enablers he’d be looking at a severely depopulated church hierarchy, and a whole bunch of churches without priests

    Michael, I think you are way off target and don’t forget I’m the commenter who had his graphically bad experience with the local diocese concerning my wife when she was on pregnancy bedrest.

    Dear wife has worked for the diocese aka our local church since 1993. She’s gotten to know a couple of dozen priests at least and if there are pedophile priests being hidden around here it would be big surprise to both of us. Not to say the Diocese of Palm Beach is perfect. Two Bishops have resigned due to them committing abuse before they came here. Priests, including one at our parish, have had relationships with women, there have been a few financial scandals, and one priest who was accused of possession of child porn. That matter was brought to the attention of law enforcement right away.

    The Catholic Church abuse scandal is a serious matter. Too much of the hierarchy have been enablers if not abusers themselves but it isn’t everyone or every part of the RC world.

  10. The Olde Man says:

    Well, I see that the homosexual propaganda has taken root, that the problem in the RC Church is them nasty pedophiles. Well, I got a shock for you innocents. About 80% of the deviant activity was homosexual. And the homo’s are petrified that after years of convincing the public that they is ordinary folk just like everybody else, only to have it become public knowledge that they can’t resist teenaged boys.
    As for marriage, glad to hear that eliminates sexual predation. Odd though, there seems to be a long line of married school teachers going into the slammer. I guess they didn’t get the memo.

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  11. An Interested Party says:

    …the homosexual propaganda…

    This has to be a parody, right? But if not, you keep up the good work you pious moral person you…

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  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Gustopher:

    Asking a religion and it’s faithful to change their doctrine seems a lot less likely to be successful than asking them to stop protecting child rapists.

    Nobody is asking them to change their doctrine, just to change it back:

    The first written mandate requiring priests to be chaste came in AD 304. Canon 33 of the Council of Elvira stated that all”bishops, presbyters, and deacons and all other clerics” were to”abstain completely from their wives and not to have children.” A short time later, in 325, the Council of Nicea, convened by Constantine, rejected a ban on priests marrying requested by Spanish clerics.

    The practice of priestly celibacy began to spread in the Western Church in the early Middle Ages. In the early 11th century Pope Benedict VIII responded to the decline in priestly morality by issuing a rule prohibiting the children of priests from inheriting property. A few decades later Pope Gregory VII issued a decree against clerical marriages.

    They will soon allow priests to marry, but it will have nothing to do with the sexual abuse of children. It will be because there aren’t enough priests.

  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Bill:
    No, of course not every priest is a rapist or molester. Many priests and many more religious do terribly hard, terribly difficult and often dangerous work for the poor and oppressed.

    But that does not justify the institution. And it doesn’t explain why the RC is so profoundly incapable of dealing with their rape problem.

    We don’t have hard numbers obviously, but given the pervasiveness of the problem I’d spitball that at a minimum 10% of RC employees are implicated either in rape or the cover up. And given the network that is required for the ongoing cover-up, that number is going to be much, much higher as you move up the ranks.

    But there is a shortage of priests. If the RC ‘fired’ every priest or bishop implicated in sexual crimes they would literally have to shut down thousands of churches around the world. The RC does not like to retrench. They certainly don’t want to have to face the prospect that the next papal conclave will be reduced to the six guys who somehow managed not to be tarred by this.

    The institution is sick to its core and it cannot extricate itself without revealing just how sick. So it will obfuscate and lie and pay off or intimidate victims and hope to weather it all.