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Hawley launches investigation into how St. Louis Archdiocese handled sex abuse allegations

Archbishop Robert Carlson speaks during a press conference on August 23, 2018. Carlson invited Attorney General Josh Hawley to review allegations of clergy sex abuse.
Ryan Delaney I St. Louis Public Radio
Archbishop Robert Carlson speaks during a press conference on August 23, 2018. Carlson invited Attorney General Josh Hawley to review allegations of clergy sex abuse.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley has accepted the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ invitation to review allegations of clergy sex abuse.

It comes after a grand jury in Pennsylvania issued a report detailing widespread child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in that state. Sex abuse victim advocates have been calling for Hawley to launch a similar investigation.

On Thursday, Archbishop Robert Carlson wrote a letter to Hawley inviting him “to review our files for the purpose of making an independent determination of our handling of allegations of clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.”

Carlson added that the Archdiocese “always cooperated with law enforcement in any investigation into these matters and we will continue to do so.”

Hawley told reporters on Thursday that he is accepting Carlson’s offer. He emphasized that his office doesn’t have the power to issue charges in this matter, but added he could recommend local prosecutors take action.

“What their cooperation will permit is for us to conduct a thorough, fair, impartial and indeed vigorous investigation — that’s exactly what we intend to do,” Hawley said.

Hawley also said that the statute of limitations may prevent prosecutors from filing charges, which is one of the reasons he’s starting the investigation as swiftly as possible.

“Facts are powerful things,” Hawley said. “And what the public wants, above else, is they want an accounting. They want an accounting of the facts. They want to know what’s happened, what’s going on and what’s being done to address it.”

When asked if his office has received a similar request from other dioceses from across the state, Hawley replied: “We have not.” He said that his office can’t subpoena specific dioceses, but added that his staff can investigate if they’re asked.

“We’ll be reaching out to them,” Hawley said. “I would strongly encourage them to do as the archbishop has done — and to open to us their files and their information. Make folks available to us so we can conduct an investigation that will cover the state and issue findings that will be comprehensive statewide.”

Attorney General Eric Schmitt says he is referring 12 cases regarding Catholic clergy sexual misconduct allegations to local prosecutors.
Credit Ryan Delaney I St. Louis Public Radio
Carlson's invitation for Attorney General Josh Hawley to examine the Archdiocese of St. Louis' files comes after a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed widespread sex abuse over a 70 year period.

A spokesperson for the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese says it has not been contacted by Hawley’s office, but the Diocese will cooperate with any review the attorney general requests.

Carlson told reporters on Thursday afternoon that the diocese "has nothing to hide," which is one of the reasons why it invited Hawley's office to review its files.

“The files that we’re talking about are actually files of anyone that’s been accused of sexual abuse," Carlson said. "And while we don’t know the protocols yet that the attorney general’s office will use, any files that they want to see will be available to them.”

Still, some survivors aren't totally optimistic about where the investigation might lead.

David Clohessy is the former executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. He says that attorney general’s review doesn’t include subpoena power, which means the office can’t compel the archdiocese to turn over anything it doesn’t want to. 

“I think in the end, it will be a public relations coup for Hawley and for the church. And that’s tragic," Clohessy said. "That outcome will breed complacency. And complacency is precisely what we don’t need. Complacency endangers kids — doesn’t protect them.”

The Pennsylvaniagrand jury’s report found, among other things, that leaders of the state’s Catholic churches persuaded victims not to report abuse and law enforcement not to investigate allegations. It covered six of the state’s eight dioceses.

Hawley said that his office will issue a public report once its investigation is complete.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.