Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley accepted Archbishop Robert J. Carlson’s invitation to review files “for the purpose of making an independent determination of our handling of allegations of clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.”
Archbishop Carlson invited the independent review in a letter to Hawley Aug. 23. The archbishop also wrote that, last year, he instructed that a review of its safe environment protocols to protect children and vulnerable individuals be undertaken by a former member of the FBI with experience in the matter. “She found our protocols to be appropriate and robust,” Archbishop Carlson wrote.
Hawley, in a conference call with reporters Aug. 23, promised a “probing, comprehensive investigation” that will get underway as quickly as possible. He said he was “heartened” by the offer of full transparency and praised Archbishop Carlson’s actions and willingness to welcome a thorough, impartial review.
Hawley explained that Missouri statutes do not allow him to convene a grand jury. Only locally elected prosecutors have the power to subpoena or convene a grand jury to conduct an investigation into “allegations of this nature,” he said. His investigation will result in a report to the public with the evidence that is gathered and recommendations to local prosecutors, he said.
The public continues to have questions about what is being done to look into potential clergy abuse in the state, he said. The willingness of a diocese to cooperate, however, permits “a thorough and robust investigation,” he added.
Hawley said he was “very encouraged” to hear the archbishop state that the archdiocese would voluntarily cooperate with an investigation by the attorney general.
“We intend to gather extensive evidence from the Church as well as from victims and their families” among others not associated with the archdiocese, he said.
Full transparency, he said, “benefits not only the public but also the Church and most importantly it will help us expose and address potential wrongdoing and protect the vulnerable from abuse.”
He invited the state’s other dioceses to cooperate similarly.
Later that day, Bishop Shawn McKnight of the Diocese of Jefferson City also invited the attorney general to review that diocese’s files. “While we were preparing to release a full report, which would have included not just information on our current situation but also historical information,” the bishop’s letter said, “we will suspend that effort to allow you to begin your investigation immediately.
The Dioceses of Kansas City-St. Joseph and Springfield-Cape Girardeau have also agreed to cooperate with the attorney general in a review of their files.
‘A fair request’
In a press conference following Hawley’s announcement, Archbishop Carlson said contacted the attorney general because people wrote him asking for a report; “we have nothing to hide;” and the programs to protect children and youth are robust. He took the same action as bishop of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D., he noted.
The credibility of the archdiocese is important, the archbishop said, and “since people wrote to me, I felt it was a fair request.”
People “deserve to see that we’re doing what we should be doing,” he added.
Sandra Price, executive director of the archdiocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection, addressed the checks and balances and accountability built into the archdiocese’s procedures, adding that a specific rule states that “anyone worker may not be alone with a child.” No priests serves in ministry who has a substantiated allegation of abuse, she said.
All clergy, seminarians, employees, and volunteers whose service in the Church brings them into contact with children must have a regular background check. Since 2002, more than 100,000 adults who are employed by or volunteer in our parishes and institutions have participated in the professionally developed program, “Protecting God’s Children.” The program equips those who serve the Church to foster a safe environment for our children and vulnerable adults.
Established in 2002, the Archdiocesan Review Board currently consists of a majority of lay members not employed by the archdiocese who review every allegation of clergy sexual abuse and provide the Archbishop with advice concerning allegations. He said he has always followed the advice of this board.
Any files the attorney general’s investigators want to see will be available to them, Archbishop Carlson said.
It’s too early to say how long the investigation will take, Hawley said, noting that the Pennsylvania grand jury took two years in their inquiry.
The archdiocese’s willingness to cooperate allows “a thorough, fair, impartial and indeed vigorous investigation,” Hawley said.
Hawley wrote a letter thanking the archbishop. “We appreciate your leadership and your commitment to public transparency and accountability,” he wrote.
The cooperation, Hawley explained in the letter, is intended “to ensure that the children of the Archdiocese of St. Louis are fully protected from any threat of abuse.”
“I’m very, very pleased that the archdiocese is willing to cooperate in this fashion and do so completely and voluntarily,” he said.
He will ask for everything that is relevant, the state attorney general said. He invites victims to contact his office at www.ago.mo.gov
In a statement he issued earlier, Archbishop Carlson called the recent allegations of sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults by Catholic clergy as revealed by a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania “extremely disturbing. Priests are called to be spiritual fathers to their people, and bishops are called to be shepherds of their flock, to protect the people in their care. We know that in many cases that has not happened. The trust of the faithful has been violated.”
Archbishop Carlson added that “we must act on behalf of the victims of this abuse in order to bring to them the love, healing, and light of Christ.”
Since 2002, the archdiocese has renewed its efforts and “made every attempt to protect those who cannot protect themselves and to ensure that the light of Christ is present everywhere — especially where children or vulnerable people are present,” he stated.
The archbishop’s invitation follows the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report in which more than 300 priests were linked to abuse claims and more than 1,000 victims in the six dioceses of that state.