The Missouri Attorney General will refer 12 former clergy members statewide for potential criminal prosecution and made several recommendations to the Catholic Church in Missouri “to ensure that our most vulnerable are protected moving forward.”
“Since I took office, one of my top priorities has been conducting a thorough, exhaustive review of allegations of abuse by clergy members in the Roman Catholic Church,” Attorney General Eric Schmitt said at a Sept. 13 press conference. “Today, as a result of that review, we are announcing that we will refer 12 cases of alleged abuse to local prosecutors for further investigation and possible prosecution — more referrals than any other state attorney general.”
The Archdiocese of St. Louis said that it is “taking the Attorney General’s recommendations to the Catholic Church into careful consideration and will continue to evaluate and enhance our safe environment programs for the safety of all of our families,” according to a statement.
“When I invited the Attorney General’s office to investigate all allegations of sexual abuse of a minor, we promised full cooperation and unfettered access to archdiocesan records,” Archbishop Robert J. Carlson said. “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.”
Launched by then-Attorney General Josh Hawley, the investigation took a little over a year to complete and included an examination of clergy files in all four dioceses in Missouri: the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Diocese of Jefferson City and Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.
The attorney general’s report includes 163 priests or other clergy statewide accused of sexual abuse or misconduct against minors. Of that number, 83 are deceased. Of the remaining 80, in 46 of those cases, prosecution was barred by Missouri law because of the statute of limitations. One case is still under open investigation by the Church. Sixteen cases have been previously referred for local prosecution. Five cases have been or are currently being investigated by local prosecutors.
The attorney general’s office also made five recommendations for further reforms among dioceses in Missouri, including:
• Lay Independent Review Board: The board should be comprised of only lay people, with meetings held at offices not owned or controlled by the diocese. Reporting parties should be offered the representation of a suitably informed, experienced and independent lay victim advocate. This advocate also should have no other duties in the diocese.
• Supervision and vetting of religious orders and external priests: Religious order priests visiting or relocating from other dioceses should be subject to the same procedures and oversight protocols regarding youth protection and clergy abuse as they apply to diocesan priests.
• Reconsideration of pre-2002 reports: Dioceses should review all past claims of abuse and subject them to the same heightened standards as set forth by the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, noting that “the dioceses’ duty to review pre-2002 reports of abuse should not be shifted to the victims.”
• Notice of discipline and changes in status: The attorney general’s office also recommended dioceses publicly disclose “without delay” when it seeks laicization for a priest. It also recommended Church advocate for reforms in the laicization process so that the process may be completed quicker.
• Supervision of offenders: “A robust program on notification and supervision of priests removed from public ministry or from the clerical state should be undertaken.”
Archbishop Carlson invited the attorney general in August 2018 to conduct an independent review of archdiocesan clergy files. He said at the time that he 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. 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.
In July, the Archdiocese released a list of 64 clergy who have had substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. The list came after an audit of clergy personnel files by former law enforcement investigators and the archdiocese’s local review board. The list is online at www.archstl.org/promise.
Since 2002, the Archdiocese of St. Louis has taken numerous steps to strengthen its procedures to ensure that children are protected. The Archdiocese also complies with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The charter also includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability and prevention of future acts of abuse. The charter had revisions made to it in 2005, 2011 and 2018.
The Attorney General’s office said its own hotline to report clergy abuse will remain open. That number is (573) 751-8791.
To report any suspicion of abuse by any Church personnel, contact local law enforcement, or call the Missouri Department of Social Services Child Abuse Neglect Hotline Number at (800) 392-3738. In addition, anyone who has knowledge of sexual abuse or misconduct by a member of the clergy, an employee or volunteer of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis is urged to call the Office of Child and Youth Protection at (314) 792-7704.