The 10 States Actually Investigating Clergy Sexual Abuse After Pennsylvania’s Horrifying Report
Pennsylvania’s grand-jury report revealed more than 300 “predator priests” within the Catholic Church, prompting 10 other states to take action, despite some legal hurdles.
A Pennsylvania grand-jury report released last month revealed rampant clergy abuse within the Catholic Church, where over 300 “predator priests” abused more than 1,000 victims over seven decades.
The 1,356-page report exposed rampant clergy abuse within the state, but pointed an accusatory finger at the rest of the country.
“For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away,” the report said. “Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.”
In the wake of the harrowing report, ten other U.S. states have launched investigations into alleged clergy abuse and cover-ups. But while church and secular officials may have heeded Pennsylvania’s call to action, each individual state’s laws will determine what form their investigations take.
Attorney generals in some states are able to open a multi-parish investigation with the power to subpoena church officials. Others, in more limited states, can only open task forces and ask the church to hand over files to investigate.
Kentucky is the latest state to publicly express interest in investigating the church, with the attorney general announcing Monday night he will seek the state legislature's permission to form a statewide grand jury.
“We are looking to see what statutory tools we might have to address any similar issues,” Attorney General Michael Brown said in a statement. “We are working to secure justice for individual survivors who have reached out to the Attorney General’s office.”
Kentucky’s state law permits Brown to assemble a multi-district grand jury, though his staff will "in the near future" draft legislation to put to lawmakers in Frankfort to expand his office’s legal rights, Brown said in a statement.
“The office has a core mission to seek justice for victims of sexual abuse and will continue to pursue every avenue in carrying out that mission,” said Brown.
In response, the archdiocese of Louisville told the Courier Journal that “we have always cooperated with the authorities in our response to sexual abuse and will continue to do so.”
But while Kentucky is hoping to change its state law to further assist its probe, other state officials simply say their hands are tied.
Louisiana’s lead prosecutor, Jeff Landry, publicly issued a statement on his limitations to prompt an investigation in his state where a quarter of adults identify as Catholic.
In the Pelican State, the attorney general’s office does not have the authority to launch a multi-parish investigation, though a local district attorneys could technically investigate themselves and then hand over individual cases to Landry.
“If any accusations are brought to my attention of this happening in Louisiana, my office and I will work with state, local and other officials to help find it, root it out, and working with local District Attorneys bring predators to justice,” Landry said in a written statement Friday.
Similarly, any investigations of criminal sex abuse in Indiana must begin at the local level with specific allegations against a person or organization, according to Melissa Gustafson, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney general’s office.
In Ohio, the attorney general would need a request from a local prosecutor even assemble a grand jury similar to Pennsylvania, Dan Tierney, the state AG’s spokesman, told The Daily Beast.
“To date, we have never been requested by any local authority to empanel such an investigative grand jury or to open any such criminal investigation on this matter,” Tierney said.
Here’s a look at the eight other states, like Kentucky, that are following Pennsylvania’s lead:
The New York State attorney general’s office issued subpoenas on Thursday to all eight Roman Catholic dioceses in a sweeping civil investigation into allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests, and any efforts to cover up those claims.
Unlike Pennsylvania, the attorney general’s office in New York doesn’t have the power to convene grand juries without an executive order from the governor’s office.
Attorney General Barbara Underwood said its criminal division will work with local district attorneys to investigate and, if warranted, prosecute any individuals who have committed criminal offenses that fall within the applicable statutes of limitations.
“The Pennsylvania grand jury report shined a light on incredibly disturbing and depraved acts by Catholic clergy, assisted by a culture of secrecy and cover ups in the dioceses,” Underwood said in a statement. “Victims in New York deserve to be heard as well.”
Her office has also established a hotline and online complaint form to collect allegations as part of the civil investigation
This investigation comes after mounting clergy abuse allegations against the Buffalo diocese, including Rev. Robert Yetter, who was placed on administrative leave last month.
“After receiving a new abuse complaint against Father Robert Yetter, Bishop Richard J. Malone has asked for and received the resignation of Father Yetter as pastor of St. Mary's of Swormville,” the Buffalo Diocese said in a statement Monday. “Father Yetter has also been placed on administrative leave as an investigation continues.”
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal established a task force on Thursday to begin a similar investigation into the state’s four dioceses.
Grewal appointed former acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino to head the task force, which will have subpoena power through a grand jury to compel testimony and demand the production of documents.
“I have authorized the task force to present evidence to a state grand jury, including through the use of subpoenas to compel testimony and the production of documents, in addition to other investigative tools," Grewal said in a statement.
Grewal, too, has established a hotline for victims to call to report allegations.
“We owe it to the people of New Jersey to find out whether the same thing happened here,” he said. “If it did, we will take action against those responsible.”
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha intends to cooperate with the Nebraska attorney general's request to review its investigative records from the last four decades, following new allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct by clergy members in Nebraska.
Attorney General Doug Peterson sent archbishop George Lucas a request last week for records that date as far back as Jan. 1, 1978.
In a news release, Lucas said he welcomed the attorney general’s quest for accountability, adding: “The truth is good for everyone. I see this as a moment for grace.”
In a Sept. 4 letter, New Mexico attorney general Hector Balderas requested documents from all three dioceses in search of evidence of clergy abuse and potential cover ups.
“Attorney General Balderas has sent investigative demands to all three dioceses in New Mexico requiring full disclosure and full transparency. The Catholic Church in New Mexico needs to fully reconcile and support survivors by revealing the magnitude of sexual abuse and subsequent cover-up by church leaders in order to restore faith and trust in the community,” press secretary David Carl said to CNN.
Balderas called his state a “dumping ground” for abusers in an interview with CBS News, but that with the cooperation from the three dioceses change justice will be served.
“There are numerous, numerous families that are demanding justice. And so what I'm hoping for is that the church understand that they also have an obligation to seek justice by reconciling, providing information to a law enforcement agency,” Balderas told CBS News.
Unlike some of his colleagues, Balderas has subpoena power, but he is trying to encourage the church to come forward first with “a full, massive disclosure.”
Balderas also told CBS that his office has looked into clergy abuse since March 2016, and that he has been in contact with other attorneys general across the country to streamline the investigation.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced plans to meet with the Chicago Archdiocese last month after at least seven priests identified in the Pennsylvania grand jury report were connected to the state.
“The Catholic Church has a moral obligation to provide its parishioners and the public a complete and accurate accounting of all sexually inappropriate behavior involving priests in Illinois,” Madigan said in a statement.
She continued: “I plan to reach out to the other dioceses in Illinois and have the same conversation and expect the bishops will agree and cooperate fully. If not, I will work with states' attorneys and law enforcement throughout Illinois to investigate.”
The Chicago Archdiocese is cooperating with the attorney general, adding they are “looking forward to the meeting.”
“Since 2002, the Archdiocese of Chicago has reported all abuse allegations to the proper civil authorities,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “We also met with members of the office of the Cook County State’s Attorney and they reviewed our clergy files in 1992, 2002 and 2015.”
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced last month his office will conduct an independent review of the Archdiocese of St. Louis amid mounting allegations of sexual abuse by its clergy members.
“Victims of sexual abuse of any kind deserve to have their voices heard and Missourians deserve to know if this misconduct has occurred in their communities,” Hawley said in a statement.
Hawley’s announcement made Missouri the first state to announce an investigation following Pennsylvania’s grand jury report. Unlike that report, however, he does not have any jurisdiction to prosecute or investigate any of these allegations.
Missouri state law dictates that only local prosecutors can issue subpoenas or convene grand juries so in order to investigate the church, Hawley had to ask the church for help.
In a letter to Hawley, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson confirmed the archdiocese would cooperate with the review, saying it “has always taken the protection of children and youth as one of our highest priorities.”
“To this end we have always cooperated with law enforcement in any investigation into these matters and we will continue to do so,” Carlson wrote.
The letter also noted that Carlson previously worked with a former member of the FBI to review the archdiocese’ “safe environment protocols” for children.
“She found our protocols to be appropriate and robust,” Carlson said.
The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City planned to review the files of every priest who had served since 1960 for "credible allegations of child sexual abuse (that) were reported, substantiated, prosecuted or admitted to," its leaders announced in late August.
Any credible allegation would be turned over to an attorney leading an independent investigation into how the archdiocese handled accusations, a news release said.
The archdiocese also intended to publish the results online, including case specifics, within 10 to 12 weeks, the release said. Another review covering cases before 1960 would follow, it said.
Archbishop Paul Coakley called it a "dark moment" in the church's history.
“It calls for a renewed commitment to vigilance, transparency and accountability from our shepherds and indeed for the whole church,” he said. “No matter how painful this process may become, I am committed to reviewing and sharing the specifics of these cases.”
The attorney general’s office, on the other hand, is letting the church take the lead in the investigation.
"We currently do not have a seated multicounty grand jury," Terri Watkins, the office’s director of communications, told The Daily Beast. "We also do not comment on the actions or investigations of a grand jury."
Connecticut Bishop Frank Caggiano asked an independent firm on Friday to conduct a comprehensive review of sexual abuse claims, the first from the church to demand an internal review.
The leader of the Bridgeport Diocese said that a financial report detailing settlement amounts for past abuse cases and an accounting of financial support being provided to priests accused of sexual abuse will be issued by the end of October.
“My hope is that these measures will begin to heal the wounds that we feel, address the legitimate desire for real change and restore our confidence in every level of leadership so that we can fully realize the divide mission of the church,” Caggiano said in a letter on Friday.
Caggiano admitted that while “many words have been said” about the sexual abuse within the Catholic church, many in the state feel grief, anger, and confusion.
“Words alone are insufficient,” the bishop said. “The time for action has come.”
Unlike the other states here, Connecticut’s attorney general has no jurisdiction over criminal cases, only to act as legal counsel to state agencies and residents in civil matters.
Attorney general George Jepsen is not investigating the church because of this legal limitation and neither is the state's Division of Criminal Justice, the only legal arm that has the power to convene a grand jury.
The attorney general’s office and Division of Criminal Justice declined to comment.
In Wyoming, local police announced they reopened an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse from the 1970s through the 1990s.
The Cheyenne Police Department didn't name the church official involved in the investigation, but last month, Bishop Steven Biegler said the diocese learned of "credible and substantiated" allegations against Joseph Hart, a retired Wyoming bishop.
While investigation of alleged abuse was opened in March, Biegler said in his first statement, the police department didn't announce its investigation until mid-August, after publicly asking victims or witnesses for any information.
The attorney general’s office declined to comment on a potential investigation at this time.