Pennsylvania’s clergy sex abuse scandal has sparked inquiries in other states
Though a grand jury report released in mid-August details abuse allegations against Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania only, it reignited a firestorm in the global church — and has prompted church and secular officials in other states to open their own inquiries.
The report revealed that more than 300 “predator priests” had been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims over seven decades.
Its authors acknowledged that the cases drove home for them a reality that hadn’t set in after other revelations of child sex abuse by Catholic clerics elsewhere.
“For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away,” the report said. “Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.”
Here’s a look at the investigations sparked by the Pennsylvania report:
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced plans to meet with the Chicago Archdiocese after at least seven priests with connections to her state were identified in the Pennsylvania grand jury report.
“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.
The Chicago Archdiocese agreed to meet, Madigan said. The meeting wasn’t immediately scheduled.
“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,” she added. “If not, I will work with states’ attorneys and law enforcement throughout Illinois to investigate.”
The Chicago Archdiocese said it was looking forward to the meeting with Madigan.
“Since 2002, the Archdiocese of Chicago has reported all abuse allegations to the proper civil authorities,” including to the Department of Children and Family Services, a statement to CNN noted.
The diocese’s website also lists the names of clergy with “substantiated claims of abuse against them,” the statement said.
Missouri’s attorney general said his office launched an independent review of the St. Louis Archdiocese and allegations of abuse by clergy “for the purpose of public transparency and accountability,” adding that thearchdiocese agreed to cooperate.
“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,” Attorney General Josh Hawley said in a statement. “By inviting this independent review, the Archdiocese is demonstrating a willingness to be transparent and expose any potential wrongdoing.”
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.”
The letter also noted that Carlson had gotten a former member of the FBI to review the archdiocese’s “safe environment protocols” for children.
“She found our protocols to be appropriate and robust,” Carlson said.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is asking for documents from the state’s diocese in the wake of the priest sex abuse scandal, according to a spokesman for the office.
“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.
In a letter to Archbishop John Wester, Balderas said he was training his efforts on helping the victims of sexual abuse by clergy, because for most cases the statute of limitations prevent criminal charges.
“However, similar to you, I remain committed to “bring(ing) healing and strengthen(ing) protection of the innocent,” he wrote. Overall, seeking justice for anyone victimized remains a priority for my office,” he wrote September 4.
The Buffalo Diocese was roiled by old and new abuse allegations after the Pennsylvania report’s release. The Rev. Robert Yetter was placed on administrative leave amid an investigation into abuse allegations, according to the diocese.
“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.”
A lawsuit also was filed against the diocese by an alleged sex abuse survivor, who said the diocese and Malone continue to expose the public to “dangerous, predator priests,” and have failed to address the issue appropriately.
“The Bishop says the shepherd does not abandon his flock during a difficult time, but based upon his decisions of the past he abandoned the children of this diocese a long time ago and chose to protect his image, and those who committed these horrible crimes continuing to allow them to prey on innocent children,” the survivor, Matthew Golden, said in a statement.
Malone had released a statement before the lawsuit’s filing, admitting to failures and promising to do better in the future.
“Let me be clear. My handling of recent claims from some of our parishioners concerning sexual misconduct with adults unquestionably has fallen short of the standard to which you hold us, and to which we hold ourselves,” he wrote. “We can do better. We will do better.”
The diocese did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
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.”
In Wyoming, Cheyenne police said they had reopened an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by an unnamed church official, stemming from his time in the diocese from the 1970s through the 1990s.
The Cheyenne Police Department didn’t name the church official, but last month, Cheyenne Bishop Steven Biegler said the diocese had learned of “credible and substantiated” allegations that Joseph Hart, a retired Wyoming bishop, had sexually abused two boys.
The investigation of alleged abuse was opened in March, Biegler said in a statement. The police department didn’t announce its investigation until mid-August, when it asked for victims or witnesses to share any information.
Hart was a bishop and an auxiliary bishop in the Cheyenne Diocese between 1976 and 2001, according to Biegler’s statement. Hart has “consistently denied all allegations that he sexually abused minors” and has said he would cooperate with the investigation.
“I am confident these processes will, in the end, come to a similar conclusion,” Hart said in July.
But an outside investigator retained last year concluded that the earlier district attorney’s investigation was “flawed,” Biegler said, and “substantial new evidence” suggested that Hart had sexually abused two boys in Wyoming.
The diocese later said in a statement a third person had come forward and claimed he had also been sexually abused by Hart in 1980. The allegation was reported to the Cheyenne Police Department, and the diocese is cooperating with the investigation, it said.
Hart declined a request to respond to the accusations when the diocese contacted him as part of its own investigation, according to the Diocese of Cheyenne’s statement.