One Year Later: Missouri’s Clergy Investigation Stagnant in Comparison to Neighbors

News: US News
by Kristine Christlieb Canavan  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  September 5, 2019   

Church, elected leaders show no urgency during investigations

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ST. LOUIS (ChurchMilitant.com) - On Aug. 23, 2018, nine days after the Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sex abuse was released, former Missouri Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley announced a state-wide investigation into clergy sex abuse. Since that announcement, the AG's office has reported no progress despite repeated requests for updates.

In contrast, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) launched a 33-county probe six months ago (February 2019) and received 119 reports from victims that have led the agency to initiate 74 investigations.

In Illinois, former Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced her statewide investigation within days of Hawley's announcement and presented a final report to the people of Illinois in December of the same year.

Similar to the Pennsylvania grand jury findings, the Illinois report noted significant discrepancies between information provided by the dioceses and facts uncovered in the state's investigation, revealing once again that law enforcement cannot trust voluntary compliance from the Catholic Church.

The lack of progress in Missouri's investigation may be justifiable, but it is still dangerous.

How the Delay Gets Justified

When Hawley announced his statewide investigation, he was in the middle of a close Senate race with Claire McCaskill. David Clohessy, noted spokesperson and three-decade veteran leader for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), called Hawley's actions a "shrewd but cynical move to win votes."

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At the time of his announcement, everyone in Missouri knew there was a 50/50 chance he would lose the race and remain the state's attorney general. Hawley bet on himself and did nothing except appoint veteran prosecutor Christine Krug to lead the investigation.

After Hawley won the Senate seat, Republican Gov. Mike Parson appointed State Treasurer Eric Schmitt as the state's new attorney general. At the changing of the guard, there are always delays during the transition from the outgoing lame duck to the incoming new person who needs time to get up to speed.

That may account for some of the stagnation, but Schmitt revealed his priorities when he appointed Christine Krug to lead a partnership with the federal prosecutor's office to combat gun violence in St. Louis.

It is possible, but unlikely, that Krug could effectively lead both investigations. When time and resources are limited, it would be difficult to prioritize clergy sex abuse over gun violence. Schmitt is in a tough situation; but Lisa Madigan faced the same dilemma in Illinois and still managed to deliver a report in less than four months.

Missouri is unique in that the state's attorney general is given neither subpoena power nor the power to convene a grand jury. Given the Church's history of withholding evidence, some would argue that not having the power to subpoena documents from the Missouri dioceses makes a thorough investigation impossible.

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St. Louis Abp. Robert Carlson

Those limitations are why Hawley was reluctant at first to announce a statewide investigation. He only changed his mind after receiving a letter from Abp. Robert Carlson sometime between Aug. 20 and Aug. 22.

The letter promised full cooperation with any state investigation. Why was Carlson suddenly so eager to cooperate? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Carlson said "he contacted Hawley's office after the archdiocese received mail and phone calls from people urging him to invite an independent review. A few of those with concerns said they would withhold funding."

Since the investigation is dependent on all four Missouri dioceses voluntarily conducting their own investigations and submitting their findings, Missouri Attorney General Schmitt could legitimately claim that he was waiting for that information to come in before embarking on any activities.

So far, the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is the only diocese not to have submitted reports. While staff in the attorney general's office claim their hands are tied until they have reports from all the dioceses, abuse victims are left feeling abandoned and potential victims remain in danger.

Given the limited power of Missouri's attorney general, the office is dependent upon the cooperation of county prosecutors. The key prosecutor in the Missouri investigation is Democrat St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner because the archdiocese of St. Louis falls within her jurisdiction.

When the St. Louis archdiocese released its self-investigative report of credibly accused clergy in late July 2019, Gardner was asked whether her office had reviewed the list for completeness and accuracy; she had no comment.

When prosecuting attorneys with jurisdiction over the other three Missouri dioceses were contacted, they did not respond to requests for more information either.

It would be as if the prosecuting attorney published the names of 13 murderous gang members when in fact there were 20.

The stiff arm from county prosecutors matches the one from Schmitt's office. Schmitt hides behind the "I can't comment on an ongoing investigation" excuse, but that didn't stop the KBI from commenting on their work.

How the Delay Is Dangerous

The half-hearted commitments of all involved are dangerous. Their slow-go/no-go method endangers the public. By keeping the clergy abuse threat in the headlines, Missouri's newspapers are taking the abuse crisis more seriously than law enforcement and elected or Church officials.

Clohessy explains the danger:

Imagine a prosecutor announcing an investigation of a city's murderous gang members. The prosecutor already knows who some of them are because there is enough evidence against them to charge them with murder. But the prosecutor wants to be cautious and thorough in the investigation and refuses to disclose to the public the names until the time of trial, months in the future.

It would be as if the prosecuting attorney, after a cautious and thorough investigation conducted over months, published the names of 13 murderous gang members when in fact there were 20. While the analogy isn't perfect, it does illustrate that elected officials and Church leaders feel little-to-no sense of urgency or danger.

Clohessy maintains that the oddball limits on the Missouri attorney general's power could be easily expanded if Gov. Parson became involved. As long as Missouri's investigation is limited to voluntary compliance from Missouri's dioceses, there is little hope that its final report will be thorough or accurate, thus giving the people of Missouri a false sense of their level of safety.

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