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Missouri Attorney General To Refer Dozen Clergy Sex-Abuse Cases To Prosecutors

Attorney General Eric Schmitt will refer 12 cases of Catholic Church sexual abuse allegations to local prosecutors after reviewing 2,300 personnel records of priests, deacons, seminarians and nuns provided by Missouri’s four Catholic dioceses over the past year. 

Overall, Schmitt said his office found 163 priests and other clergy members had been accused of sexual misconduct involving minors in Missouri since 1945. In some cases, they were accused of abuse multiple times and by multiple people. 

"Well, there's no question this was a long-sustained and far-reaching cover-up — to cover up the abuse. ... The focus was more on protecting priests than looking out for the victims," Schmitt said Friday at a press conference. 

He said his civil investigation of Catholic clergy sexual abuse allegations is the most comprehensive to ever take place in Missouri, though it did not encompass all Catholic clergy who have worked in the state over the past 74 years.

The attorney general said he didn’t have access to most of the personnel records of Catholic religious orders, some of which run universities, elementary and secondary schools in the state. The Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis said Friday it did not know how many people were working with religious orders in the St. Louis area.

Within the dioceses, about three-quarters of the 163 priests deemed possible abusers can’t be prosecuted. A little over half of them are dead. Of the 80 who are still alive, about half are facing allegations that are too old to pursue under state and federal law, according to Schmitt’s office.

The remaining cases Schmitt evaluated include five that are currently being investigated by local prosecutors; 16 that have been referred to prosecutors previously; and one the Catholic Church is still investigating.

That left the 12 cases that Schmitt is referring himself. 

At a press conference Friday, Schmitt gave a few details about the allegations in those dozen cases, but his office didn't provide identifying information such as names of the accused or the locations and dioceses where the alleged abuse took place. Schmitt’s staff said his office wasn’t allowed to share that identifying information under state and federal law.

Schmitt said he focused his efforts on looking for priests and other clergy directly involved in abuse. He did not investigate potential cover-ups of abuse that might have been carried out by the church hierarchy.

Over the past several weeks, the Missouri Catholic dioceses released their own lists of priests, nuns and other clergy they believe to be “credibly accused” of sexual misconduct related to minors. 

The Archdiocese of St. Louis released a list of 63 accused priests; the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph released a list of 24 accused priests; the Diocese of Jefferson City released a list of 35 clergymen; and the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau released a list of 16 people. 

Taken together, the four dioceses lists don't add up to as many people as Schmitt flagged for misconduct allegations. It’s also unclear whether the dozen people Schmitt is referring to prosecutors appeared on those previously released lists. 

Schmitt has laid out five recommendations to Missouri’s Catholic dioceses for improving their sexual misconduct investigations. 

He said the dioceses need to exert more oversight over religious orders. The church’s independent review boards that investigate sexual abuse complaints also need to be made up entirely of lay people. 

When the lay review board or church determines that a clergy member will be defrocked, that decision should be disclosed to the public, according to Schmitt. There should also be robust supervision of priests removed from public ministry, and the diocese needs to review old sexual abuse claims and subject them to standards imposed after 2002, Schmitt said. 

Before seeing the report, survivors of Catholic clergy sexual abuse were criticizing Schmitt’s efforts. They said the state had relied too much on the Missouri dioceses to provide information about their own misconduct. 

“We expect that it is going to be essentially a whitewash,” said David Clohessy, with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests in Missouri, before Schmitt released his report.

Clohessy said he didn't think Schmitt had reached out to enough victims and should have worked more closely with private attorneys who have represented sexual abuse survivors in cases against the Catholic Church. 

"I've seen where he claimed his staff talked to 70 victims over more than a year. In contrast, law enforcement officials in Kansas have talked to 119 victims over just a couple of months," Clohessy said.

The state launched an inquiry into Missouri Catholic clergy sexual abuse last year under then-Attorney General Josh Hawley. 

Hawley decided to look into Catholic clergy sex abuse after Pennsylvania’s attorney general released a comprehensive report suggesting that several Catholic dioceses in that state had not been forthcoming about the extent of the misconduct by clergy.

The Missouri investigation does not resemble the Pennsylvania inquiry. In Missouri, no subpoenas were issued, and no sworn testimony was taken. 

The Pennsylvania attorney general has more sweeping authority to run such an investigation. Still, sexual abuse survivors said Schmitt didn’t take steps to get around the limitations of his office — as attorneys general in other states have done.

Read the whole report:


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Julie O'Donoghue
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