Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley and his staff said they were conducting an inquiry into clergy sex crimes and cover-ups. But neither of us have heard from them.
One of us is an advocate who has, over the past 30 years, spoken with more clergy sex abuse victims than perhaps anyone anywhere. The other is an attorney who has, over the past 25 years, represented more than 300 people assaulted by Catholic priests, nuns, brothers and seminarians, and has talked to roughly 300 more.
But we’ve essentially gotten silence from the attorney general’s office.
A St. Louis attorney we know, Ken Chackes, has represented more than 100 victims of Catholic predators. He too has not heard from Hawley.
The three of us know nearly all of the nationally recognized experts in this field, including priests, former priests, researchers and writers. None of them, as best we can tell, have gotten a call or email from Hawley’s people.
We think the attorney general’s refusal to respond or reach out to us speaks volumes about his intentions. It’s hard to give Hawley the benefit of the doubt when he refuses to even make a simple phone call to those with considerable knowledge of the scandal in Missouri and have spent years trying to improve it.
Our skepticism about Hawley is apparently shared by others. The New York Times reports that “even some Republicans in Missouri have accused him of being a political opportunist uninterested in his official duties.” And the Post-Dispatch recently quoted a high-ranking veteran of the attorney general’s office as saying “When you yell (investigation announcements) from the mountaintops, it makes one wonder, ‘Is this about yelling from the mountaintops, or is this about doing a straight up, legitimate, thorough investigation of an issue?’”
Perhaps most disturbing about Hawley’s inquiry into church crimes and cover-ups, however, is his reliance on the “voluntary cooperation” of bishops. Virtually all of us with experience in the clergy abuse world would tell Hawley that such reliance is laughable.
Like us, these prelates have also been involved in the abuse issue for decades. Unlike us, they’ve devoted considerable time, energy and resources into keeping this horror hidden, disclosing only when essentially forced to do so by courageous victims, investigative reporting or pending cases, both criminal and civil.
We’d also tell him that looking only at Missouri’s four dioceses leaves out roughly 30 percent of the priests in the state. These are the clerics who belong to religious orders like the Jesuits (who run St. Louis University) and the Marianists (who run Chaminade and Vianney). They must be included in any real probe.
We’d tell him to make sure and include accused nuns, brothers, bishops, seminarians and lay employees.
We’d tell him to speak to the more than 400 witnesses and 300 victims who we know have been abused by clerics, nuns, brothers, bishops, seminarians and lay employees.
We’d tell him to speak to the accused priests about their crimes and to former priests who may have valuable information.
We’d tell him to prod bishops to take several immediate, simple steps to protect kids immediately, while the inquiry is going on.
There’s so much more to be done to protect the vulnerable and expose the truth. But posturing won’t do it. Listening to those who know is at least a good first step, if only Hawley will take it.
Rebecca Randles is a Kansas City attorney. David Clohessy of St. Louis is the former director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and SNAP’s current St. Louis director.