At least 13 states have announced they are investigating the clergy sexual-abuse allegations linked to the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.
The attorney general’s office in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia were contacted by NBC News who found that nearly a third are currently either actively probing allegations of abuse by clergy or about to begin a statewide investigation.
Attorney generals have the power to subpoena catholic dioceses for documents of sex-abuse allegations. The list of states so far includes Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Vermont.
Steven Kelly, a lawyer with the national firm Sanford Heisler Sharp who represents child sexual-abuse victims by clergy among others in Baltimore, called the growing investigation a “step in the right direction” in an interview with The Epoch Times.
“The idea that the attorney general is investigating is I think a very good thing for our state, it gives survivors hope that the church might actually be punished for covering this stuff up,” he said.
Kelly, like other child abuse lawyers, said the biggest problem is that the statute of limitations blocks prosecutors from having the power to charge someone a certain number of years after a crime is committed. The statute of limitations is different in each state.
He said he encounters “many [upon] many” victims of church abuse.
“On average, at least three to five survivors per week have called me over the past 10 years and out of that number, 99 percent of the cases are barred by the statute of limitations. The most I can do is help the survivors report the crime and then guide them to counseling resources and so forth,” he said.
In Maryland, victims have until age 24 to file a lawsuit based on the state’s statute of limitations. But Kelly, who has been fighting for victims since 1988 after his older sister was raped and murdered, said the law weighs in favors of the perpetrator.
“Most [church abuse] survivors are just incapable, especially males, of taking the steps they needed to take until they were at least in their 30s,” he said. “So, the vast majority of survivors in Maryland … there is no mop, no financial remedy that they can even get.”
The latest state to officially initiate such an investigation is Florida. Attorney General Pam Bondi said on Oct. 4 during a press conference that their office will “immediately” start issuing subpoenas to all seven Catholic dioceses in the state.
As part of the inquiry, a new tip site was initiated; Florida law enforcement is also assisting with the investigation.
“Any priest that would exploit a position of power and trust to abuse a child is a disgrace to the church and a threat to society,” Bondi said in a statement. She urged victims and anyone else with information to assist them with the ongoing statewide investigation.
Some attorney generals, like Florida’s, attribute their decision to investigate to the bombshell Pennsylvania grand jury report from August that accused more than 300 “predator priests” across Pennsylvania of sexual abuse. It also found that Church officials were complicit in a decades-long cover-up of the alleged activity. At least 1,000 child victims were identified.
Pope Blames Devil
In response to the growing outcry, Pope Francis said that Satan is to blame for the sexual abuse crisis dividing the church.
He has since asked Catholics around the globe to recite a special prayer every day in October to beat Satan down.
“(The Church must be) saved from the attacks of the malign one, the great accuser and at the same time be made ever more aware of its guilt, its mistakes, and abuses committed in the present and the past,” Francis said on Sept. 29.
But the pope’s use of the term “the great accuser” in describing Satan sparked outrage from Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the Vatican’s former ambassador to Washington, who accused the pontiff in a scathing 11-page letter of knowing and doing nothing about allegations against then-U.S. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick.
In an updated statement, Viganò complained that Francis “compared me to the great accuser, Satan, who sows scandal and division in the Church, though without ever uttering my name.”
Kelly, who is a practicing Catholic himself, said the church’s growing scandal hasn’t made him renounce his faith.
“I am a practicing Catholic, I have not left the church. I believe that the church does not belong to the people who covered this stuff up,” he said.
The lawyer instead called for the corrupt and complicit church officials to be removed from their posts.
“I think those people need to be rooted out of the church and the church needs to be reformed,” Kelly said. “You may have to bring down and destroy a lot of the church as it is today to really fix this problem. It needs to be done.”