Virginia Attorney General Opens Investigation Into Possible Sexual Abuse and Coverup in State’s Catholic Dioceses

DULLES, VA – JANUARY 28: People, including
Mark Rankin Herring, current Attorney General of Virginia, protest and welcome arriving passengers at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia, January 28, 2017. The protest follows the executive order of President Donald Trump to bar all refugees entering the US and Muslims from seven countries. (Photo by Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced Wednesday his office is running an “ongoing investigation” into the state’s two Catholic dioceses and whether there has been any sexual abuse and cover-up. The announcement comes a day after D.C.’s top prosecutor made a similar announcement.

In a late morning news conference, Herring said the probe was launched in response to a massive Pennsylvania grand jury report released this summer and not with specific knowledge of unreported abuse or a cover-up in Virginia. However, he told reporters, after reading the report: “Like so many Americans … I felt sick.”

The Pennsylvania report described hundreds of Catholic priests across the state abusing children over seven decades, protected by a hierarchy of church leaders who covered it up. It identified more than 1,000 child victims.

Herring also announced a new hotline for clergy abuse reports: 1-833-454-9064.

In a statement earlier Wednesday, Herring’s office said “we shouldn’t assume the behavior and the problems are limited just to Pennsylvania or to one diocese. If there has been abuse or cover-up in Virginia like there was in Pennsylvania, I want to know about it, I want to root it out, and I want to help survivors get justice and get on a path to healing.”

Virginia is the 13th U.S. state this year — plus the District — to start an investigation of the Catholic Church, a historic high. Kentucky’s attorney general has announced his intention to begin one. The Justice Department last week announced it will look into the church in Pennsylvania. While other countries have had nationwide civil investigations into Catholic clergy abuse, 2018 has seen by far the most extensive involvement by national or statewide law enforcement looking into the U.S. Catholic Church.

Many Catholics see the civil investigations as welcome and long overdue after learning of cover-ups, but others — including some leaders, such as Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl — have in recent weeks described the attention on the church as generally unfair and biased, and they emphasize that most abuse reports were decades ago. Wuerl’s resignation was announced earlier this month amid criticism of his handling of abuse cases, though he remains in place until Pope Francis names his replacement.

Virginia has two Catholic dioceses — one in Richmond and one in Arlington.

Efforts to reach the dioceses were not immediately successful Wednesday. Herring said church leaders have been cooperative.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Michelle Boorstein and Laura Vozzella