Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt on Friday referred 12 former priests for potential criminal prosecution but stopped short of recommending charges against any top church leaders, despite concluding the Roman Catholic Church was involved in “long, sustained and far-reaching cover-up.”
Schmitt released details of a 13-month investigation of religious leaders within the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the dioceses of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Springfield-Cape Girardeau and Jefferson City.
Missouri is among several states that launched investigations last year after a Pennsylvania report cited abuse of more than 1,000 children by hundreds of priests there since the 1940s, and efforts by church leaders to hide it.
The Missouri investigation began in August 2018 under then-Attorney General Josh Hawley. Hawley was elected to the U.S. Senate in November, and Schmitt, a fellow Republican, took over the investigation after he was appointed to replace him.
Schmitt said the 12 referrals are the most by any state attorney general since the Pennsylvania report.
“The betrayal of trust and of innocence is devastating and in many instances incomprehensible,” Schmitt, himself a Catholic, said at a news conference in St. Louis.
The investigation reviewed personnel records for every priest serving in Missouri dating to 1945 — more than 2,000 priests and 300 deacons, seminarians and religious women, Schmitt said.
Investigators also spoke to abuse survivors and their relatives who contacted the attorney general’s office.
Investigators found 163 priests or clergy members accused of sexual abuse or misconduct against minors. Eighty-three have died. Of the 80 still alive, the statute of limitations has run out on 46 of the crimes, Schmitt said.
One case is still under open investigation by the Catholic Church. Schmitt said 16 cases have been previously referred for local prosecution and five cases have been or are being investigated by prosecutors, leaving the 12 potential cases Schmitt is referring for prosecution.
Schmitt said his office didn’t consider recommending charges against anyone in the church hierarchy because the focus was on the “perpetrators of the crimes.” David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called that decision “tragic.”
Clohessy, of St. Louis, also said Schmitt should have released more details about the alleged crimes and where they occurred.
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Source: Religion News Service