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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The southern Missouri diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau is launching an independent investigation into clerical sex abuse.
Diocesan communications director Leslie Eidson told the Springfield News-Leader Thursday that Bp. Edward Rice had ordered an inquiry stretching back more than a half century. The news comes a day after Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced he would be launching an investigation into allegations of sex abuse cover-up in the Catholic Church, beginning with the St. Louis Archdiocese.
The newspaper reported that according to Eidson, "A formal canonical decree asking for the independent examination of all personnel files as well as an open letter from Rice to congregants to be read at all Masses this weekend were in the works."
Reportedly, the letter acknowledges that the diocese "is aware of nine inactive priests who have faced previously reported credible allegations of abusing a minor." Additionally, it reveals that a priest "was recently placed on administrative leave" for "sexual misconduct over the internet" and discloses the diocese "is investing a recently reported lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct by a former Springfield diocese employee."
On Wednesday, clerical sex abuse victims and their supporters converged on Hawley's St. Louis office demanding he investigate each of the state's four Catholic dioceses. Under pressure, St. Louis Abp. Robert Carlson told Hawley he would grant investigators access to diocesan secret archives containing clerical sex abuse allegations.
"Anything we have we will turn over," Carlson said.
The dioceses of Kansas City-St. Joseph and Jefferson City followed suit in pledging cooperation.
According to Eidson, as of Thursday afternoon, the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese had not been in communication with Hawley's office. She said Bp. Rice's inquiry will examine "all personnel files" dating back to the establishment of the diocese in 1956, adding that because the review will encompass dozens of Missouri counties, it remains unknown how many files will be included.
The diocese has not yet identified who will lead the investigation. Eidson explained that to avoid any possible conflict of interest, Bp. Rice is seeking a non-Catholic to spearhead the review — an expert in employment law with "an eye for misconduct" or any other "impediment to ministry."
The Springfield-Cape Girardeau inquiry will be watched closely, as from 1973–1984, the diocese was headed by then-Bp. Bernard Law. In 1984, Law left the diocese to become the cardinal-archbishop of Boston, where for the next 17 years he shielded dozens of predator priests from prosecution, shuffling them from parish to parish as their tally of victims mounted.
On Thursday, the diocese presented the Springfield News-Leader an advance copy of Rice's letter. In it, the bishop writes:
The reality is that because of the ecclesial misdeeds perpetrated against children and vulnerable adults, many have been physically, sexually or emotionally scarred. And when they cried out for help, bishops ignored those cries. The very Church they believed in, the priests and bishops they trusted with their salvation and as guides in the faith, ended up betraying them and afflicting unspeakable harm. They then harmed them further through their silence and inaction.
The bishop's specific mention of "vulnerable adults" as victims is a subtle refutation of the narrative that pedophilia, not homosexuality, spawned the clerical sex abuse crisis.
Later in his letter, Rice suggests more directly that discussion of the root of the crisis has been largely avoided: "Please join me in uniting your prayers and sacrifices with Christ and the entire Church for the healing of those who have been abused, for a greater fidelity to Christ's teachings, and for an increase in holiness," he asks, adding, "That can only happen with an honest conversation about the root causes of this crisis, and through the purification the Lord wants for his Church."
On Aug. 7, Bp. Rice published a column on his diocesan website warning that the crimes of former Washington, D.C. cardinal Theodore McCarrick are just one component of a vastly larger crisis and hinting that the crisis springs from homosexuality among the clergy.
Rice included in his column portions of an article by Dr. Ralph Martin, president of Renewal Ministries, saying the piece "expresses my feelings." The bishop's phrasing was highly significant, as Martin repeatedly references homosexuality as a metastasizing cancer in the Church.
On Aug. 14, a Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed that various Church officials, including Washington, D.C. Cdl. Donald Wuerl and Pittsburgh Bp. David Zubik, covered up clerical sex abuse in their dioceses. Since then, New York and Nebraska have hinted that they, too, may convene grand juries.
On Thursday, Missouri became the second state to officially commit to exposing complicit bishops, with Attorney General Hawley encouraging other states to follow. A short time later, Illinois became the third. There is speculation that New York may be next.