JEFFERSON CITY • As part of an investigation into potential clergy abuse within the Roman Catholic Church, inspectors in the Missouri attorney general’s office have identified at least 100 boxes of records that officials said will be subject to review.
The office told the Post-Dispatch each box generally can hold at least 2,000 documents. The state’s four Catholic dioceses possess the records in question.
The attorney general’s office has been contacted approximately 50 times by survivors and potential witnesses of abuse through an online portal, and the office said it has assigned “several” attorneys to handle its investigation.
The update on Attorney General Josh Hawley’s investigation comes as skepticism continues to swirl around the probe, which the dioceses are complying with voluntarily. Victim advocates have panned the investigation for its lack of subpoena power, which they say would lend credibility to the examination of church records.
Hawley announced an investigation into the state’s dioceses last month. The announcement followed the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that uncovered widespread abuse of more than 1,000 children by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years.
In a letter sent to Hawley’s office on Thursday, David Clohessy, spokesman for the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, urged Hawley not to “play politics” ahead of the Nov. 6 election. Hawley, a Republican, is running for U.S. Senate.
“A hasty, inadequate review, rushed to completion before Nov. 7 for seemingly partisan purposes will only rub more salt into the already deep and often still fresh wounds of hundreds of victims of child molesting clerics,” Clohessy wrote.
Clohessy also urged Hawley to expand the probe to include “the hundreds of proven, admitted, and credibly accused child molesting clerics” from outside Missouri “who have quietly been sent, over decades, into the Archdiocese to live, work and/or be ‘treated’ at church facilities,” as well as the Catholic organizations that run the facilities.
Nine such priests named in the Pennsylvania grand jury report had been sent to Roman Catholic facilities in the St. Louis area over the last 20 years, Clohessy and a handful of SNAP advocates said Thursday. The group held a news conference “outing” the priests, who lived at three Roman Catholic facilities that treat sexually abusive priests and offer other services.
The priests never performed sanctioned religious duties here, said Elizabeth Westhoff, Archdiocese of St. Louis spokeswoman. Westhoff said the archdiocese did not have more details about the priests because the facilities are run by independent Catholic religious organizations.
“We have found no record that any of these nine were granted faculties to serve in any capacity here in the Archdiocese of St. Louis,” Westhoff said in a statement. “We have no way to confirm or deny that these priests who reportedly came from another diocese to St. Louis for inpatient treatment at privately run health centers did or did not do so.”
Clohessy said SNAP has no evidence of new allegations against the priests but said the group suspects they were allowed to move freely and may have posed a danger to children. He said Hawley’s investigation should include independent Catholic religious organizations.
Clohessy also said the attorney general should set up “accountability mechanisms” and should provide outreach to victims. He also called on Hawley to partner with local prosecutors, who have criminal jurisdiction, in order to gain subpoena power.
“A real investigation must involve subpoenas and sworn testimony,” Clohessy wrote. “If this were a drug cartel, you’d cooperate with the Drug Enforcement Agency and other specialized agencies. Why would you not want to cooperate with local prosecutors in this inquiry?”
In response to the letter from SNAP, Mary Compton, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said in a statement: “The Attorney General’s Office takes these recommendations seriously and will give them careful consideration. We invite constructive input from all members of the community and all interested persons.”
Hawley has said that his office lacks criminal jurisdiction, which would give him the ability to issue subpoenas and convene a grand jury. He has said he would refer credible cases to local prosecutors.
Daniel Hartman, Hawley’s chief of staff, acknowledged in a statement that there are ways the attorney general’s office could gain criminal jurisdiction — either by the request of local prosecutors or the governor — but that those mechanisms had not been activated.
“Yes, there are procedures through which a local prosecutor and/or the governor can initiate a process that would result in our office being appointed special prosecutor,” he said in a statement. “However, our office has no legal authority to initiate those procedures and thus it would require action by a local prosecutor or the governor on their own initiative.”
Meanwhile, the New York attorney general’s office has issued subpoenas to dioceses in New York under the authority of the state’s nonprofit laws.
“We do not have the same authority as the New York Attorney General,” Hartman said in a statement.
The attorney general’s office later said it was “considering all possible options” to ensure “full voluntary compliance with our investigation.” The office added that it was continuing to analyze state law to determine if there was a way to subpoena the Catholic Church — if officials deemed such a move necessary.
In New York, the Associated Press reported that the attorney general’s office there issued subpoenas to the state’s eight Catholic dioceses, seeking any and all documents pertaining to allegations, findings from internal church investigations and payments to victims.
The New York attorney general also said that the office was seeking to coordinate with local prosecutors to investigate and prosecute clergy “who have committed criminal offenses that fall within the applicable statutes of limitations.”
Critics of Hawley’s investigation have gone so far as to call the probe a “sham” because he has not issued subpoenas.
“There has to be an independent grand jury that has subpoena power and the power to compel testimony under oath,” Tim Lennon, president of SNAP, told the Post-Dispatch earlier this month. “Anything less than that is a sham and a whitewash.”