The California attorney general’s office will review how all 12 Roman Catholic dioceses in the state handled allegations of child sexual abuse that have resulted in payouts of hundreds of millions of dollars to victims.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra sent out letters to the dioceses last week, Sacramento diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery told The Sacramento Bee.
Six of the 12 dioceses – Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange County, Sacramento, San Francisco, and San Jose – will also be required to turn over those same files to the state Department of Justice within 30 days, The Bee reported.
Bishop Brennan’s Statement
“As is our policy, we intend to cooperate with the Attorney General’s request, as well as any other requests from law enforcement, and will work out the details with them directly,” said Bishop Joseph V. Brennan of the Fresno Diocese in a statement Tuesday.
“The Diocese of Fresno was also recently contacted with a request on behalf of the district attorneys that serve within our eight counties to set up a meeting. We welcome and look forward to the opportunity to engage in what we believe may be mutually beneficial dialogue.”
The review comes with the church under a microscope as child sexual abuse allegations continue to be made against priests throughout the United States and around the world.
“As is our policy, we intend to cooperate with the Attorney General’s request, as well as any other requests from law enforcement, and will work out the details with them directly.” — Fresno Bishop Joseph V. Brennan
Msgr. Harrison Now Faces Five Accusers
Here in the Valley, a victims advocacy group said Monday that it had been contacted by five men who claim to be victims of sexual abuse by Msgr. Craig Harrison of Bakersfield.
The Fresno diocese has said it is investigating the allegations. Harrison was placed on paid administrative leave when the first allegation surfaced.
Kyle Humphrey, an attorney for Harrison, told the Bakersfield Californian: “We welcome an honest investigation into these claims so that we can fully exonerate Monsignor Craig and restore him to his rightful position as pastor of St. Francis Parish.”
In March, the Fresno Diocese said it would conduct an independent review of sexual misconduct allegations dating to 1922 when the diocese was formed. Former FBI official Kathleen McChesney is assisting in the investigation, according to the diocese.
You can read more about Harrison and the allegations against him in this Californian story.
The Becerra Letter
The attorney general’s letters ask dioceses to voluntarily preserve documents relating to abuse allegations involving clergy, staffers, and volunteers that were received from 1996 to the present. The attorney general’s office will look into whether the archdiocese properly reported the allegations under California law.
The request could be the first step toward a full investigation of California dioceses, which serve an estimated 10 million worshippers.
“We intend to comply with both the spirit and the letter of what they’re asking for,” said Eckery, the spokesman for the Sacramento diocese.
“We think it’s a long time coming,” Joey Piscitelli, a board member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, told The Bee. “We think it’s a bad idea for entities that have a history of covering up child abuse to report on themselves, and that’s what they’ve been doing. They have not been transparent in the past, and they have a history of covering things up.”
The California attorney general’s office review was praised by Joseph George, a Sacramento attorney. George told the Los Angeles Times that he has worked with abuse survivors to file with the attorney general’s office more than 100 reports of abuse involving clergy in Los Angeles, Oakland, Santa Rosa, Fresno, San Diego, and Monterrey.
“The hope is that the hierarchy will be held accountable and the conduct will be conveyed to the public,” he said. “They keep talking about apologies and evil and mistakes and sins. But what we’re really talking about are crimes that were made by more than just bad apples.”
Becerra Previously Asked Victims to Contact His Office
Last November, Becerra asked victims of clerical sex abuse to submit complaints to his office.
Many dioceses around the country have been hit with lawsuits and accusations that sex abuse by clergy and others was ignored or swept under the rug.
The Los Angeles archdiocese, which covers Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, has paid a record $740 million in settlements to victims. In April, the archdiocese announced an $8 million settlement for a former Catholic school student who was molested by a coach.
Several dioceses in California have released updated counts of priests who had been accused of sexual abuse over decades.
To report abuse by members of the clergy or religious organizations within California, click here.
1,000 Children Abused in Pennslyvania
Last year, a grand jury report in Pennsylvania detailed decades of abuse and cover-up in six dioceses, alleging more than 1,000 children had been abused over the years by about 300 priests. Since then, federal prosecutors and attorneys general in several other states have launched investigations.
A report by the Illinois attorney general in December said that 690 clergy members had been accused of sexual abuse, while church officials had only publicly identified 185.
Fresno Diocese Training
Bishop Brennan said that the diocese “regularly trains all mandated reporters about their obligations to law enforcement. Even those who are not mandated reporters are reminded of their moral obligation to be aware for the signs of child abuse and to report it when there is a reasonable suspicion an abuse has occurred.”