Six state AGs open investigations into Catholic dioceses over abuse scandals

“My hope is that the Catholic Church is no longer silent,” one victim of clergy abuse in Pennsylvania tells CBS after the bombshell grand-jury report. The church may not have a choice for long either way. Two state Attorneys General have announced new probes into abuse and cover-up over the past 24 hours, joining four others, and more may be on the way:

Attorneys general across the United States are taking a newly aggressive stance in investigating sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, opening investigations into malfeasance and issuing subpoenas for documents.

On Thursday alone, the New York State attorney general issued subpoenas to all eight Catholic dioceses in the state as part of a sweeping civil investigation into whether institutions covered up allegations of sexual abuse of children, officials said. The attorney general in New Jersey announced a criminal investigation. …

In the three weeks since the release of the Pennsylvania report, the attorneys general of Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and New Mexico have also said they will investigate sex abuse by Catholic priests in their states and have asked local dioceses for records. Most bishops have been saying they will cooperate.

The newly emboldened approach by the authorities intensifies the scrutiny on the Catholic Church at a time when Pope Francis is weathering a crisis related to abuse by priests and bishops across the globe, from the United States to Honduras to Chile to Australia.

The case that CBS highlights is especially ghastly, with four sisters abused by the same priest, a case which the diocese settled with a gag order 25 years ago. It points out that there are a wide variety of victims in the abuses, not just a single victim profile. Sexual misconduct in these cases has been varied, and assumptions to the contrary do a disservice to victims such as these sisters, especially since it misses the point that abuse is abuse regardless of its form.

The grand jury report in Pennsylvania made the extent of the abuses and the attempts to cover it up all too clear in those dioceses, which has understandably fueled calls for more investigations into other dioceses. That sets up obvious incentives for AGs to duplicate those efforts in other states, both political and moral. Until the Catholic Church ‘opens the books’ on its own, as I prescribed last week, those incentives will only grow:

The real problem isn’t right/left, conservative/liberal, or Francis/Viganò. It’s the complete failure of the organization to live up to its ideals as a moral pillar, and to follow its own teachings on the value of confession and repentance. The trench warfare that has erupted is just another distraction from the real crisis, which is that we still have no full accounting of the abuses and those who helped cover it up sixteen years after the Globe first raised the issue.

Until we get to that level of transparency and accountability, we Catholics will continue to endure shocking revelations dripping out from grand juries and lawsuits. Our trust in the episcopate will continue to get damaged with each revelation following each assurance that this time we have fixed the problem. If that continues for much longer, the ideological battles won’t matter any more, because people will lose faith in Christ’s church, with outcomes like we saw in Ireland this year and worse. If that matters to the Vatican and Catholic leadership, they need to stop sniping at each other over their ideological grudges and open the books once and for all.

The move by AGs to conduct comprehensive criminal probes with the full weight of the state behind them shows that the church has almost run out of time to restore its credibility on its own. The Vatican and the bishops need to get ahead of this by providing full transparency on abuse claims, personnel moves, and settlements in each diocese, and doing so immediately. Only then can the Body of Christ begin to heal, and only then will victims get their due.