Since July, when the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ordered the release of a grand jury report that revealed the sexual abuse of at least 1,000 children at the hands of Catholic priests and the subsequent cover-up of those assaults in six of the state’s dioceses, at least 13 states have launched their own investigations. Now the District of Columbia will do the same. Attorney General Karl Racine announced at today’s Mayor-Council Breakfast that his office has opened a probe into potential sexual abuse of children by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.
During an August appearance on WAMU’s The Politics Hour, Racine indicated that his office was eyeing a probe of the archdiocese. This was before D.C.’s then-archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, resigned from his post earlier this month after he was criticized for his handling and cover-up of sexual abuse claims while he was a bishop in Pittsburgh. In June, Wuerl’s predecessor in D.C., former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, was suspended and subsequently resigned from the College of Cardinals after he was accused of sexually abusing minors and adults while he was a priest in New York decades ago.
“While we generally don’t talk publicly about our confidential enforcement activity, I can report that our office has launched a civil investigation into whether the Archdiocese—which is a nonprofit institution—violated the District’s Nonprofit Act by potentially covering up allegations of sexual abuse of minors,” Racine said in a statement provided to City Paper. “According to the law, nonprofits are required to work for a public purpose; if they are in fact covering up child sex abuse, that is clearly not in the public interest. Our investigation brings the count of states with open investigations to 14.”
It’s rare for a city official like Racine to launch a probe into the archdiocese because felony criminal cases are investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. But Racine is able to investigate D.C.’s archdiocese because of the District law that gives his office subpoena authority over nonprofit entities. If Racine’s investigation uncovers any criminal activity, it will refer it to the District’s U.S. attorney, Jessie K. Liu, whose office yesterday opened a hotline where survivors of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy of any faith can share their experiences.
Separately, as part of its probe into the Archdiocese of Washington, Racine’s office has launched a website, www.ReportClergyAbusetoDCOAG.com, where survivors can report their abuse.
Since the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, the Catholic Church has been scrambling to fix its scandal-laden image, with numerous dioceses releasing internal reports of sexual abuse allegations against its clergy. Last week, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington released a list of 31 clergy who have been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing children between 1948 and 1996.