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Group claims new clergy sexual abuse in St. Louis

Anne Harter (left) and Lena Woltering of Belleville attend a press conference by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests in front of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis on Feb. 21. SNAP wants Archbishop Robert Carlson to post the names of clergy accused of sexual abuse on the Archdiocese of St. Louis website. 

For months now, the St. Louis Archdiocese has been saying it intends to follow the lead of its counterparts around the nation and publicly identify its clergy who have been credibly accused of the sexual abuse of children. Since last year, the Missouri Attorney General’s office, under two consecutive office-holders, has said it will complete and release an independent investigation of the issue statewide. To date, neither promise has been fulfilled.

Officials of both the archdiocese and the attorney general’s office told us last week that they remain committed to completing and releasing their respective investigations. But neither office could even hint at a timeline nor justify why the final reports have to be completed before the release of the information confirmed so far can begin.

Why the hurry? Because, with the continued veil of mystery over this issue, there’s no way for the public to be sure that some of those accused aren’t still in positions to commit further abuse. Assurances that the church has already purged any current threats don’t inspire much confidence when they’re accompanied by the same vague vows of sometime-in-the-future disclosure that we’ve been hearing for months.

After an August 2018 grand jury report alleging more than 300 Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania had sexually abused more than 1,000 children over decades, legal authorities in various states have stepped up to assess the situations in their own jurisdictions. In Illinois alone, then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan last year reported accusations against some 500 priests, far more than church officials had acknowledged.

Many bishops around the country have also provided public disclosure, to varying degrees. Two of Missouri’s four dioceses — Jefferson City and Springfield-Cape Girardeau — have already released lists of priests facing substantiated allegations.

Some activists say that information lacked adequate detail, but at least they released it. Missouri’s remaining two dioceses, in St. Louis and Kansas City, both say they are awaiting results of internal inquiries by hired investigators before releasing anything. With so many other jurisdictions having already done this, why does the St. Louis Archdiocese keep insisting it needs more time?

Given the church’s circle-the-wagons history on this issue, it may not be too cynical to suggest, as has David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, that they’re running out the clock. “Delays help those who commit abuse, and those who cover it up,” says Clohessy. “With every passing day, one more victim dies or gives up … or one more witness dies or moves away.”

Both the archdiocese and the attorney general’s office should release whatever information their investigations have uncovered so far, and they should commit to specific timelines to issue final reports. It is required to bring closure for past victims and, as Clohessy notes, “Every single day a predator’s identity is hidden, kids are at risk.”