A Pennsylvania grand jury report that says hundreds of predatory priests in the Catholic Church have sexually abused more than a thousand people over six decades is spurring top law enforcement officials nationwide to consider how to investigate other potential cases, on Tuesday.
Although just a few attorneys general have taken public steps toward some type of investigation, survivors of sexual abuse by priests say the probe by the Pennsylvania grand jury should represent only the beginning of the process.
“Pennsylvania and the attorney general there had the courage to take on a very powerful institution,” said Tim Lennon, who heads the board of directors at the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Any time there’s been an investigation, we find similar kinds of systematic coverup, systematic moving around [of] priests to hide.”
There are signs of progress in Missouri, where, for example, the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Diocese of Kansas City have agreed to voluntarily open church records to investigators from Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office, while in Illinois, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is set to meet soon with the Chicago Archdiocese to probe priests identified in the Pennsylvania report who had been sent to her state following accusations of abuse.
Lennon said these moves are a start, but cautioned that previous investigations have shown that church officials continue to hide documents in voluntary partnerships, telling The Hill that “I have no trust in partnerships without independent outside investigation where there’s subpoena power and testimony under oath. Anything else is just a whitewash.”
Another major problem, according to The Hill, is that Congress has shown little interest in getting involved, with lawmakers on Capitol Hill remaining largely silent on the issue after the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report.
Paul Nolette, a political scientist at Marquette University who studies attorneys general, explained an additional difficulty in that most states, except for about a dozen, do not have the tools to mount a serious probe.
He said that although some attorneys general “have direct power to issue subpoenas in criminal manners, others have to rely on a grand jury that has to be called by them or called by local prosecutors, and some don’t have any power at all.”
For example, attorneys general in South Carolina and Nebraska have said they lack the authority to investigate potential abuse claims within the Catholic Church. In Idaho, the attorney general can only get involved if they are asked to do so by a local police force.