The scale of sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania—where more than 1,000 children were targeted over decades—has prompted shocked officials in other U.S. states to examine how far the cancer has spread.
Officials in Missouri announced Thursday that the state would launch an investigation into sex crimes within the local Catholic Church, saying the Archdiocese of St. Louis had offered to open its files to scrutiny.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley came under pressure from survivors of sexual abuse in the state who protested outside his office earlier in the week after new allegations of abuse emerged.
Last week a couple reportedly sued the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese alleging that Troy Casteel, its director of family ministry, sexually abused a woman on diocese property during marital counseling. The couple claims that the diocese was aware of the claim but gave Casteel “sanctuary.”
Casteel was known to spend time alone with the wife and go on trips with her, according to the lawsuit, but the diocese did not intervene. It’s claimed Casteel’s actions culminated in abusing the woman.
Hawley vowed to investigate all alleged crimes, publish a public report, and—if he uncovers abuse—pass evidence to authorities.
“While my office does not have jurisdiction at the present time to prosecute any criminal acts of this nature, or again to issue subpoenas to investigate it, it would be possible to conduct a thorough and robust investigation of potential clergy abuse if the various dioceses were willing to cooperate,” Hawley said Wednesday, according to STL Today.
Hawley said his investigation would initially focus on the Archdiocese of St. Louis—which surrounds the state’s second largest city—but confirmed that he had asked the bishops of the three other dioceses in the state to agree to fully cooperate with the sex-abuse probe.
(Hawley is also Missouri Republicans’ nominee for U.S. Senate, and is locked in a bitter race against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.)
The Archbishop of St. Louis, Robert Carlson, promised investigators would have “unfettered” access to his records, saying he’s instructed officials to turn over “anything that we have,” and added that he hoped the investigation would “give confidence” to people living in his diocese.
“We did this for one simple reason: the credibility of the archdiocese and the fact that several people reached out to me and asked us to do it, and I thought it was a fair request,” said the archbishop.
The three other dioceses in the state—Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Kansas City-St. Joseph, and Jefferson City—have not formally accepted to take part in the investigation yet, but are reportedly expected to do so.
The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph said it had not received a formal request from the state but would cooperate with the investigation if asked. The Diocese of Jefferson City said it would suspend an investigation it’s undertaking independently to allow the state to take over.
However, Sandra Price, who is the executive director of the St. Louis archdiocese’s office of child and youth protection, said that 27 priests had been relieved of their duties and that there were currently no priests serving there that have been subject to “credible allegations of abuse.”
“Anyone who works with children may not ever be alone in private with a child,” said the child protection officer. “We train everyone on that, from the janitors to the principals to the deacons and the priests.”
David G. Clohessy, the former head of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priets (SNAP), was hopeful about Hawley’s investigation but said he still feared that the archdiocese would withhold information. “Law enforcement needs to use subpoena powers to get at all church abuse records,” he said.
Survivors of Catholic sex abuse have urged all states to investigate their priests. Terry McKiernan, the founder of BishopAccountability.org, told Time magazine that what was really needed was a national inquiry, saying there was “nothing particularly unusual” about Pennsylvania
The survivor said: “If it’s happening in rural towns in Pennsylvania, it’s basically happening everywhere.”