ST. LOUIS (AP) — Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is referring 12 former clergy for potential criminal prosecution after his office completed a 13-month investigation of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church.
Schmitt released on Friday details of the investigation of religious leaders within the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the dioceses of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Springfield-Cape Girardeau and Jefferson City.
St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson said the archdiocese would continue to cooperate with authorities.
“In August of 2018, when I invited the Attorney General’s office to investigate all allegations of sexual abuse of minors, we promised full cooperation and unfettered access to the archdiocese’s records. Following that investigation, and today’s report, the Archdiocese of St. Louis remains committed to working with authorities, to bringing healing to victims and their families, and to ensuring a safe environment for all of our children,” Carlson said in a statement.
Missouri is among several states that launched investigations last year after a Pennsylvania report cited abuse of more than 1,000 children by hundreds of priests there since the 1940s, and efforts by church leaders to hide it.
The Missouri investigation began in August 2018 under then-Attorney General Josh Hawley. Hawley was elected to the U.S. Senate in November, and Schmitt, a fellow Republican, took over the investigation after he was appointed to replace him.
Schmitt said the 12 referrals were the most by any state attorney general since the Pennsylvania report.
“The betrayal of trust and if innocence is devastating and in many ways incomprehensible,” Schmitt, himself a Catholic, said at a news conference in St. Louis.
The investigation reviewed personnel records for every priest serving in Missouri dating to 1945 — more than 2,000 priests and 300 deacons, seminarians and religious women, Schmitt said. Investigators also spoke to abuse survivors and their relatives who contacted the attorney general’s office.
Investigators found 163 priests or clergy members accused of sexual abuse or misconduct against minors. Eighty-three have died. Of the 80 still alive, the statute of limitations has run out on 46 of the crimes, Schmitt said.
One case is still under open investigation by the Church. Schmitt said 16 cases had been previously referred for local prosecution and five cases had been or were being investigated by prosecutors, leaving the 12 potential cases Schmitt is referring for prosecution.
Schmitt said it was clear the church was involved in a “long, sustained and far-reaching cover-up,” but said his office didn’t consider recommending charges against anyone in the church hierarchy because the focus was on the “perpetrators of the crimes.”
David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called that decision “tragic.” Clohessy said Schmitt also should have released more details about the alleged crimes and where they took place.
“Even without naming individual names, he could still provide much more helpful information than he has,” Clohessy said.
Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph spokesman Jack Smith said that officials believed one of the 12 priests was from that diocese, and that they had already contacted the Jackson County prosecutor to offer any assistance. He said the diocese hoped the investigation would help “lift some of the darkness in our past” and bring a sense of justice and healing to victims.
Jefferson City Bishop Shawn McKnight of the Diocese of Jefferson City said in a statement that he hoped the report would help achieve greater accountability and transparency, and restore trust in the church.
A spokeswoman for the Springfield-Cape Girardeau dioceses said officials there had not seen the report, and declined comment.
Schmitt’s office also provided recommendations to the Catholic Church. They included assuming greater responsibility and oversight of religious order priests and those visiting from other dioceses; developing independent review boards composed entirely of lay people; and being more open when a priest is removed from the ministry.
Schmitt said the clergy abuse hotline would remain open, and he encouraged any additional abuse victims to come forward.
Each of the state’s Roman Catholic jurisdictions also conducted its own internal investigation.
In July, Carlson released a list of 61 clergy members with substantiated abuse allegations and three who were found to have possessed child pornography. Thirty-four of the priests are deceased, and the archdiocese said all of the living priests had been removed from the ministry. The archdiocese recently added two more priests to its list; one is deceased and the other was laicized.
The updated list of St. Louis Archdiocese clergy with substantiated claims of abuse is available online at archstl.org/promise
The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese released its report last week, citing 19 clerics, none of them currently serving. Thirteen have died, two have been removed from ministry, and four have been removed from ministry. One of the laicized clerics, Shawn Ratigan, is serving 50 years in federal prison on a 2013 conviction for producing or attempting to produce child pornography.
The two other dioceses released similar lists of accused religious leaders last year. The Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau identified 16 priests with credible accusations of sexual abuse of children. The Diocese of Jefferson City listed 35 credibly accused church officials, including 30 priests and five members of a religious order.Leave a comment