Missouri is starting an investigation of sexual-abuse claims in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis, state Attorney General Josh Hawley said, just a week after Pennsylvania released a report that detailed widespread sex abuse by clergy in that state.
Hawley said his office doesn’t have the power to force institutions to cooperate with criminal investigations but was able to begin the probe after the archdiocese agreed to help.
“They say they want to cooperate fully and I’m confident they will,” Hawley told reporters Aug. 23 on a conference call. “I am firmly of the view that full transparency benefits not only the public but also the church. Most importantly, it will help us expose and address potential wrongdoing and protect the vulnerable from abuse.”
St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson, in an interview with St. Louis NBC affiliate KSDK on Aug. 21, said he would cooperate with investigators.
“We have always cooperated with whoever the prosecutor is,” said Carlson, who has led the archdiocese since 2009. “We have nothing to hide.”
The probe initially covers only the Archdiocese of St. Louis, one of five Roman Catholic dioceses in the state, Hawley said. He asked the bishops of the four other dioceses—groupings of parishes that serve as a main organizational structure of the church—to agree to cooperate with the probe.
Pennsylvania officials last week released the results of a two-year grand jury probe that found evidence that at least 1,000 people, mostly children, had been sexually abused by some 300 clergy in the state during the past 70 years, as well as cover-ups by church leaders. The most-wide ranging report on clergy sex abuse in the United States indicated the numbers of actual victims and abusers could be much higher.
Similar reports have emerged in Europe, Australia, and Chile, prompting lawsuits and investigations, sending dioceses into bankruptcy and undercutting the moral authority of the leadership of the Catholic Church, which has some 1.2 billion members around the world.