On Friday, September 13, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced that he has referred 12 former Catholic clergy members in the state for possible criminal prosecution for alleged crimes of sexual abuse.
Schmitt released a 329-page report which goes into detail concerning the Attorney General office's year-long investigation into widespread allegations of abuse in various dioceses throughout the state. This report includes interviews with victims and a thorough review of personnel records of over 2,000 priests and 300 deacons, seminarians, and religious women, dating back to 1945.
This report found 163 clergy members who have been accused of sexual abuse or misconduct involving minors. One of those cases is currently being investigated by the church, five were already under investigation by local prosecutors, and 16 were referred for prosecution in the past.
83 out of the 163 accused clergy are now dead. Another 46 cases have already passed Missouri's statute of limitations for criminal prosecution.
In a public statement on September 13, the Attorney General's office announced that the 12 cases were the most referrals for prosecution by an attorney general since states across the country started investigating Catholic dioceses for allegations of widespread sexual abuse.
The vast majority of the allegations in this investigation involve misconduct prior to 2002. According to the document released on Friday, "given the nature of memory repression in victims, reports of abuse are frequently received decades after the abuse occurred."
The report went on to state: "It should also be noted that since 2002, the church has, on occasion, failed to meet even its own internal procedures on abuse reporting and reporting to law enforcement."
The report mentioned one prominent example of this failure - the prosecution of the former head of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Bishop Finn. Finn was charged in 2011 for failing to report possession of child pornography and other misconduct by former priest Shawn Ratigan, who pleaded guilty in 2012 and resigned in 2015.
According to the report, "The Finn case is one example of the continued resistance of church leadership to follow internal procedures on reporting suspected abusers and engage civil authorities when misconduct is discovered."
All four Catholic dioceses in Missouri have released their own lists of accused priests. However, the Attorney General's report has not publicly released the names of the 163 accused clergy members.
Attorney General's office spokesperson Chris Nuelle said that investigators met with all of the alleged victims who contacted their office. He has also encouraged other survivors to come forward.
Attorney contributor Reed Martens represents victims of sexual abuse in civil lawsuits against their abusers and negligent third parties who failed to prevent the abuse. Brian has a few thoughts to share on the legal rights of Catholic clergy sex abuse survivors:
In August of 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing widespread sexual abuse coverups in the Catholic Church sparked investigations throughout the country. Many survivors of these heinous crimes have begun fighting back by taking legal action against the dioceses who failed to keep their young church members safe from sexual predators.
Sexual abuse allegations must be taken seriously and should be reported to law enforcement immediately. However, many Catholic dioceses fail to appropriately respond when such allegations are raised - with some even covering up abuse and allowing predators to continue practicing as clergy members. These negligent dioceses must be held accountable for the trauma they have caused victims to suffer.
If you or a loved in is a survivor of sexual abuse in a Catholic Church, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. Our attorneys are prepared to help you find justice. You can learn more about your legal options by speaking with one of our experienced sex abuse survivors lawyers in a free consultation.