Maryland may have paved the way or at least lit a fire under law enforcement officials across the US. In 24 US states, the highest ranking law enforcement officials (usually the Attorney General) have conducted or are conducting investigations and reports within Dioceses nationwide regarding child sex crimes.
Downside: These have produced very few criminal prosecutions, almost without exception (see Michigan).
Upside: Most of them (except Kansas) have resulted in reports that shed sorely-needed light on how Catholic officials have dealt with and still deal with clergy sex crimes and cover-ups.
Downside: Some (perhaps most) are primarily based on church records, meaning that much about the crimes and cover-ups remain covered. Does anyone really think that most abuse cases reported to church figures had properly written notes by church officials, who then made written reports, and for years or decades, most of those reports were objectively written, carefully preserved, thoroughly organized, and then, many years later, fully turned over to law enforcement when those officials asked bishops “Pretty please, will you voluntarily give us all your documents about your child molesting clerics?”
Upside: A few law enforcement professionals have thankfully gone beyond seeking voluntary cooperation from bishops and their staff. They have used their subpoena powers and have made repeated pleas for victims, witnesses, and whistleblowers to call a state hotline which leads to a much more thorough and impactful report, like the 500+ page one in Maryland or the 696-page report in Illinois, both released earlier this year or the 2018 grand jury report in Pennsylvania.
Downside: Until now, almost all of these investigations and reports, except Pennsylvania and Michigan, have been ‘one and done’ events. In other words, when an AG publishes a report on clergy sex crimes and cover-ups, he or she moves on. Until now, as best we can tell, no AG has said, “We know there are still child molesting priests, nuns, monks, bishops, seminarians, deacons and lay Catholic employees who have hurt kids, may still be hurting kids and are still successfully keeping themselves and their crimes hidden. We also know they’ve achieved – and are achieving – this self-serving secrecy because their Catholic supervisors have helped or are helping them. So I’m committed to keep investigating until more of the truth is found and brought to light so that more children are spared the life-changing consequence of childhood sexual abuse.”
Not only do almost all abuse investigative reports mark the end of law enforcement’s role in looking at the church in a broader context, but sometimes the reports themselves are minimized. In some cases (see Kansas and Missouri), state officials don’t even hold news conferences to unveil and discuss their findings.
Encouraging News From Maryland
If you’ve read this far, you now get the positive news in Maryland that could change secular church abuse investigations moving forward. Late this week, Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown formally sought state money ($1.2 million) that would enable him to hire more employees to continue and expand his long-running investigation into crimes against children by Catholic clergy in his state. More staff, Brown says, “would help not only his investigation into the Baltimore Archdiocese but also two other Catholic jurisdictions: the Archdiocese of Washington DC and the Diocese of Wilmington.” “The Baltimore Archdiocese covers the city and nine Central and Western Maryland counties,” The Sun explains. “A portion of the Washington Archdiocese includes the Maryland suburbs of the District of Columbia and Southern Maryland, while the Wilmington Diocese includes Maryland’s Eastern Shore.”
That’s big and encouraging news out of Maryland. Additionally, Brown has indicated that “his office has seen a significant increase in tips regarding instances of sexual abuse since it released in April its report detailing decades of abuse and torture of children in the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” the Sun has noted. Brown has also issued subpoenas to the Washington Archdiocese and the Wilmington Diocese. He’s not going to base further investigation solely on what church officials choose to share with him and his staff. He’s compelling them to cooperate or potentially face criminal consequences.
In summary, more victims, witnesses, and whistleblowers are coming out of their shells and doing the right thing: contacting independent and unbiased professionals in law enforcement. Instead of walking away from a job half done, those professionals plan to dig deeper into still-concealed wrongdoing in their jurisdiction. And the man in charge of this investigation is using a powerful tool – subpoenas – to unearth more of the long-hidden truth about which clergy assaulted kids and which clergy enabled them to do so, either by ignoring or helping to hide their crimes.
Will Brown succeed in getting the added monies? We’ll know next month, but early indications are positive. The Maryland state agency responsible for writing the state’s budget and filling employee vacancies has confirmed that money is available. In case you missed it or forgot, Brown’s initial report identified 156 clergy and staff accused of sexually abusing children. Almost 50 were not previously listed as credibly accused by the Baltimore Archdiocese. “Since the release of that report, we have had a substantial uptick in the number of calls and emails that have come into our office through the hotline we set up at the start of that investigation four years ago,” Brown’s request to the state board said.
While we at Horowitz are encouraged by the Maryland AG’s move here, we’re realists. It’s still possible that Brown won’t be given the added resources he needs. It’s possible that even with more staff, he may not opt to issue another report. He still may be unable to bring new criminal charges against church officials who committed or concealed (or are still concealing) the horrific crimes of predator priests. And even if the best-case scenario happens in Maryland, no law enforcement agency across the US may follow AG Brown’s lead. If we see more AG probes in other states (and we hope we’ll see them in EVERY state), they may still end up being ‘one and done’ events with little, if any, longer-term follow-through. If you follow this continuing scandal in the Catholic church, no doubt it has sometimes been ‘demoralizing for you. Well, here’s one way to ease, cope with, and maybe even prevent being disheartened by all this horror. Let’s all take note of and appreciate every positive development in this crisis, especially when that development occurs in the secular sphere, where substantial change most often happens and remains most likely. And let’s hope AG Brown gets this additional funding and works quickly on exposing more of what is now being kept under wraps by Catholic officials in and around Maryland.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.