January 28, 2023
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National Recap: Attorney general to investigate archdiocese

Karl Racine, attorney general of Washington, D.C., announced on Oct. 23, that his office will begin investigating if the Archdiocese of Washington violated the law by covering up the sexual abuse of minors.

According to a statement Racine provided to CNN, the civil investigation is centered around the District’s Nonprofit Corporation Act, which forbids nonprofit institutions from acting against the public interest.

“According to the law, nonprofits are required to work for a public purpose,” Racine said. “If they are in fact covering up child sex abuse, that is clearly not in the public interest.”

Racine also launched an online complaint form so victims or witnesses of sexual abuse in the church can report incidents for the ongoing investigation.

Separately, the Superior Court and U.S. Attorney’s Office launched a new outlet to report sexual abuse in the Catholic church on Oct. 22. The Clergy Abuse Reporting Line allows victims or witnesses of sexual abuse from Catholic leaders to report the abuse online or over the phone.

The investigation, albeit a misdemeanor case because felony cases in Washington are handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, will bring further scrutiny to the Catholic leaders who have come under intense criticism in recent months. In Washington alone, two higher-ups in the Catholic church were disgraced for their handling or perpetuating of sexual abuse.

On Oct. 12, Cardinal Donald Wuerl resigned as the archbishop of Washington after the uproar caused by a Pennsylvania grand jury report calling out the systematic coverup of abuse in the state’s Catholic Church. The report included the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where Wuerl formerly served as a bishop. The report caused further controversy when Pope Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation and called the act noble.

In June 2018, former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Wuerl’s Washington predecessor, was removed from the ministry in light of allegations that he had sexually abused a teenager while serving as a priest in New York decades ago. Following this allegation, two New Jersey dioceses came forward and revealed they settled lawsuits in the 2000s in which McCarrick harassed two men as adults. He currently resides at a friary in Kansas.

In a statement, the Archdiocese said its attorneys met with Racine’s office and gave him copies of all abuse allegations since 2003. In the statement, Kim Viti Fiorentino, chancellor and general counsel for the Archdiocese of Washington, said the exchange was productive and that sexual abuse in the church is only a historical issue in Washington.

“We explained that the problem of sexual abuse of minors in the Archdiocese was a historical one — that to our knowledge there had not been an incident of abuse of a minor by an archdiocesan clergy member for almost 20 years,” Fiorentino said.

On Oct. 15, the Archdiocese also released a statement claiming to not have had an incident of sexual abuse in over 20 years. Prior to Wuerl’s resignation, the Archdiocese had refused to reveal its history of sexual abuse.

Racine’s investigation came briefly after federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania issued subpoenas to the state’s eight dioceses to investigate potential crimes, all of which was confirmed by CNN as of Oct. 23. The Diocese of Buffalo recently received a subpoena as well.

Attorney generals in Missouri, New Jersey and New Mexico have also all announced that they will be taking steps toward investigating their dioceses for sexual abuse and other crimes.

Meredith Burke can be reached at mburke@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @meredithsburke