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The Archdiocese of Washington posted a recent evening prayer to its nearly 20,000 followers on Twitter:
“Lord, give peace to our troubled world, and give to your children security of mind and freedom from anxiety.”
The anxiety of the archdiocese might have risen a bit this past weekend. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said he was “looking at” investigating the church here in the midst of ongoing sex abuse scandals that are roiling the religion.
“Those are horrific occurrences that took place,” Racine said Friday on Kojo Nnamdi’s WAMU Politics Hour (this reporter is the resident political analyst on that show), referring to the Pennsylvania grand jury report of more than 300 priests involved with more than 1,000 sexual abuse cases. “And obviously not limited to Pennsylvania,” said Racine. “So it is incumbent on law enforcement officials to use every bit of authority they have to, I think, conduct robust investigations.”
Time on the Politics Hour ran out, but while still in the studio Racine said he thought Archbishop of Washington Donald Wuerl should step aside while more is learned about Wuerl’s role. The Pennsylvania Grand Jury report contends that Wuerl—despite taking some steps to address abuse issues—helped protect priests while he was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 until 2006, when he came to D.C.
Wuerl has limited his public appearances and spoken only with select media. He insists he took serious steps to curb abuse.
On Monday, City Paper asked Racine to comment further on his response to what is a heart-wrenching crisis for many Catholics.
“As a lifelong Catholic and a former student of St. John’s College High School, I am deeply anguished by the abuse allegations,” he wrote. “A crucial part of our job at the Office of the Attorney General is to help protect abused and neglected children, and this issue has our full attention.
“Generally, we do not discuss confidential enforcement activity, but our office is reviewing the findings of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s report and we will consider taking action if appropriate.”
In response to Racine’s comment, the archdiocese said, “For more than 30 years the Archdiocese of Washington has had strong and proactive child protection policies and procedures,” including an independent, specialist review board on child protection, a Child and Youth Protection Office with licensed therapists, and published, audited reports on “all claims and activities around child protection.” The archdiocese has an extensive section on child abuse on its website.
Archbishop Wuerl also is caught up in another controversy, this one over former Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who resigned after the church found that an accusation that he sexually abused a child was credible. Wuerl has denied knowing of the allegations against McCarrick in the years preceding, but Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò says that Wuerl surely did know as soon as he began his work in Washington.
Racine has the authority to investigate financial and other activities of nonprofits, including religious organizations. Any findings of criminal wrongdoing would be referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office here.
“I can tell you that I have gotten several phone calls,” said Racine on WAMU, “and I can tell you my phone has been burning up after the Pennsylvania report with calls for action.” He told WAMU reporter and Politics Hour guest host Patrick Madden that none of the calls involved any persons citing abuse, but said all have been filled with deep expressions of concern.
The Archdiocese of Washington is a huge institution. It covers the District and five Maryland counties—Montgomery, Prince George’s, Charles, Calvert, and St. Mary’s. With 143 parishes, it operates 93 Catholic schools with about 27,000 students. Catholic Charities, the social service arm of the archdiocese, operates 58 programs in 36 locations throughout the archdiocese.