State AGs are investigating sex abuse and the Catholic Church. Here's a status update
News: Clerical sexual abuse
When Pennsylvania’s attorney general began working on a grand jury investigation into clerical sexual abuse in his state, he had no idea what would happen when the report came out.
The project began in 2016. By the time it finished in 2018, a grand jury had reviewed more than 500,000 pages in documents, and interviewed dozens of witnesses. The report detailed allegations of clerical abuse dating back decades, and depicted dioceses which reassigned priests who had been accused serially of misconduct, or which had otherwise failed to make known the potential of danger to Catholics.
The report was published Aug. 14, 2018. It came just two months after revelations emerged about the abuse and coercion of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick — and because of that context, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report landed in the Church like a bombshell, compounding the scandal of a summer already unlike any before it in the U.S. Church.
In the wake of that report, state attorneys general across the country announced their own investigations into clerical abuse, and the possibility of criminal cover-up. But in the months and years that followed, the issue of clerical abuse has faded somewhat from the spotlight.
And while many attorneys general opened their investigations to great fanfare, in a few states they concluded quietly, and in others they have lingered on with no resolution.
What the status of the state investigations into the Catholic Church?
Here’s an update:
Investigation launched: Sept. 10, 2018
Arkansas attorney general Leslie Rutledge said in September 2018 that she would review and investigate allegations of abuse in the Diocese of Little Rock, which encompasses the entire state of Arkansas.
Rutledge has not subsequently released a report of her findings.
Investigation launched: September 2018
According to media reports, California’s attorney general launched an investigation into how dioceses have handled abuse allegations in September 2018. In December 2019, the state subpoenaed records from half of California’s dioceses, including the archdiocese of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The attorney general’s office has not commented on why it issued subpoenas for some dioceses, but not all. It has not issued any report of its findings.
Investigation launched: February 2019
Colorado’s attorney general announced in February 2019 a joint commitment with the state’s dioceses to an independent investigation into abuse and cover-up in the state.
The investigation released two reports, one in 2019 and another in 2020. The second report named numerous priests, including a Denver priest well-known for serving the poor, who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse and coercion. An independent reconciliation and reparations program was established, with funds from the three dioceses, to provide financial support to alleged victims.
Investigation launched: Sept. 11, 2018
State authorities announced in November 2018 that they had been “conducting an investigation of potential criminal conduct engaged in by priests or other personnel of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington. This investigation has focused on the acquisition and review of diocesan papers for records of sexual or other abuse. DOJ issued a subpoena on Sept. 11, 2018 for a broad range of diocesan records covering a period of decades.”
The state has not announced any update to its investigation. The state attorney’s general has not responded to questions from The Pillar.
Investigation launched: October 2018
Status: Concluded, Nov. 6, 2020
State authorities announced in November 2020 that “after a thorough investigation of every tip and every allegation in the church’s file, the Office of Statewide Prosecution found no evidence of ongoing, unreported, current sexual abuse of minors by church priests in Florida.”
“We also conducted a comprehensive, historical review of allegations of sexual abuse against priests in Florida, and based on the facts of those allegations and the law, we are unable to prosecute any additional priests or church officials because the then-existing statute of limitations bars such prosecution and/or the alleged abuser is no longer alive.”
Investigation launched: Aug. 23, 2018
In August 2018, Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan announced the state would develop “a complete and accurate accounting of all sexually inappropriate behavior involving priests in Illinois.”
In November 2018, Madigan said that the state’s dioceses had not disclosed all “credible allegations of sexual abuse against minors.”
While the attorney general’s office said it would provide ongoing updates of its investigation, it has not made subsequent public announcements. But in June 2021, current Illinois attorney general Kwame Raoul told WCIA television that the investigation is ongoing, and the state believes that hundreds of “credible allegations” against priests, dating back decades, have not been disclosed to the public.
The state attorney’s general has not responded to questions from The Pillar.
The Iowa attorney general’s office announced June 23, 2021, that it had “examined records involving about 70 Catholic priests and looked into 50 complaints of sexual abuse and misconduct reported to the attorney general.”
The state investigation found that “while the Catholic Church in Iowa had a long, painful history of abuse by priests and a cover-up by officials, the Dioceses have enacted many reforms over the last two decades. The Dioceses have become more responsive to victims of clergy abuse and each now reports all accusations to law enforcement authorities.”
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Investigation launched: September 2018
Maryland attorney general Brian Frosh launched a probe into the Catholic dioceses in Maryland in September 2018. In February 2019, he hired a former prosecutor to helm the effort. But the state has not provided any update on the project.
A spokesperson for Frosh told the Baltimore Sun this month that the matter is an “ongoing criminal investigation.”
Investigation launched: September 21, 2018
Michigan’s attorney general announced an investigation into the state’s dioceses in September 2018, and assembled an investigative team soon after. The state executed search warrants in Michigan’s seven dioceses in October 2018, and says it has reviewed hundreds of cases of abuse or misconduct.
In an October 2020 update, the attorney general’s office said that 11 men, nearly all of them priests, had been charged with felonies as a result of the probe. While the state says the investigation has not yet concluded, it has not given an update since October 2020.
Investigation launched: Aug. 23, 2018
Status: Concluded, Sept. 13, 2019
Missouri attorney general Josh Hawley announced in August 2018 that he would investigate clerical abuse and cover-ups in the state’s four dioceses.
One year later, the attorney general’s office announced it would refer a dozen men for possible prosecution, and it issued a report which found that “for decades, faced with credible reports of abuse, the church refused to
acknowledge the victims and instead focused its efforts on protecting its priests.”
“However, since 2002, the four dioceses in Missouri have implemented a
series of reforms that have improved their response to, and reporting of, abuse,” the report added.
Investigation launched: August 2018
Nebraska attorney general Doug Peterson requested in August and September 2018, records from the state’s three dioceses on “diocesan investigations of claims of sexual exploitation, including incidents of child pornography or ‘sexual communication with another person given authority by the diocese to carry out church functions.’”
Nebraska’s dioceses spent much of 2019 in a court battle over subpoenas from Peterson’s office, which called for 22 years of records, initially requiring they be turned over in only three days. The dioceses said that demand was onerous, and that some records were protected by medical privacy laws. Eventually, their appeal was dismissed by a judge, but the dioceses said by that time they had handed over all or most of what was asked for anyway.
On Sept. 29, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office told The Pillar that “the report is forthcoming.”
Investigation launched: Sept. 6, 2018
In September 2018, New Jersey’s attorney general “announced the formation of a criminal task force to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy within the Catholic dioceses” of the state.
”The task force is charged with investigating allegations of sexual abuse by clergy and undertaking a comprehensive review of the New Jersey Catholic dioceses” and their compliance with relevant state and county laws, along with “policies and procedures for the dioceses to share information and cooperate regarding potential cases of sexual abuse.”
The state has not issued any update on its progress, and did not respond to questions sent by The Pillar earlier this year.
Investigation Launched: September 4, 2018
New Mexico attorney general Hector Balderas began an investigation of alleged clerical abuse and coverups in the state in September 2018.
“It is time to demand full disclosure and full transparency,” Balderas told reporters, when he wrote to the state’s bishops notifying them of the investigation.
In June 2021, the state’s attorney general’s office said it would release records and documents related to clerical sexual abuse and misconduct in the state. It has not yet done so.
Investigation Launched: September 6, 2018
New York’s attorney general subpoenaed records from the state’s eight dioceses in September 2018, and pledged to work with local district attorney to prosecute any potential felonies still within the statute of limitation.
The attorney general’s office filed suit against the Diocese of Buffalo in November 2020 for, it alleged, “failing to follow mandated policies and procedures that would help to prevent the rampant sexual abuse of minors by priests within the Catholic Church.”
The state has not said whether its investigation remains active after it filed the Buffalo lawsuit.
Investigation launched: June 2019
Status: Concluded, January 2021
In January 2021, North Dakota attorney general Wayne Stenehjem announced “that the investigation by his office into allegations of child sexual abuse by members of the North Dakota Catholic Dioceses [had] concluded.”
The state said that no charges would be filed, because those priests who might have faced criminal charges were dead, or the state’s statute of limitations had expired on any crimes they might be charged with.
Investigation launched: July 22, 2019
The Diocese of Providence, which encompasses all of Rhode Island, announced in July 2019 that it would provide the state attorney general’s office, along with state police, access to its records dating back to 1950.
Since a review of the files began, at least one case has been referred to prosecutors for criminal charges. While the state’s attorney general, Peter Neronha, said in February 2020 that a report could be issued that year, none has yet been released.
Investigation launched: October 24, 2018
Virginia attorney general Mark Herring announced in 2018 a clergy abuse hotline as part of an “ongoing investigation into whether criminal sexual abuse of children may have occurred in Virginia’s Catholic dioceses, and whether leadership in the dioceses may have covered up or abetted any such crimes.”
“Like so many Americans, I read the grand jury report on clergy abuse in the Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, and I felt sick….If there has been abuse or cover-up in Virginia like there was in Pennsylvania I want to know about it, I want to root it out, and I want to help survivors get justice and get on a path to healing,” the attorney general said.
While one priest was charged in May 2021 with sexual abuse of a minor as a result of the investigation, the probe appears to be ongoing, and state officials have given no indication of when they might issue a report or conclude their review.
Investigation launched: April 2021
Wisconsin attorney general Josh Kaul announced in April a probe into clergy abuse and coverups in the state. In July, he said his office has received more than 100 reports of abuse or institutional misconduct. Kaul told reporters in July he does not know when his investigation will conclude.