BALTIMORE, Maryland — Maryland’s attorney general is delving into records of the Baltimore archdiocese as part of an investigation into child sex abuse, the latest U.S. state seeking confidential church files since a Pennsylvania grand jury released an explosive report alleging widespread abuse and a cover-up scandal.
Archbishop William Lori said in a statement Monday that he has written priests and deacons in the archdiocese advising them he’s been informed by Attorney General Brian Frosh of “an investigation of records related to the sexual abuse of children.”
Unlike other U.S. states including New York that have recently announced probes into clergy sex abuse, Frosh’s office only said it doesn’t confirm or deny the existence of any investigations. But in a tweet Friday, Frosh called for victims of abusers “associated with a school or place of worship” to come forward.
Lori, who earlier this month was appointed by the Vatican to take over West Virginia’s diocese following the resignation of Bishop Michael Bransfield amid allegations he sexually harassed adults, wrote that the archdiocese is “supportive of the review.” He also pledged full cooperation throughout the process.
“It is my hope and prayer that this independent review and other acts of transparency by the archdiocese will bring about greater trust in the Church among those who are understandably skeptical about the Church’s handling of allegations of abuse,” Lori wrote.
Ryan Sattler, leader of the Catholic reformist group Call to Action Maryland, said it’s time for Baltimore’s archdiocese and others across the country “to be totally and painfully honest” about the crisis over priests sexually abusing parishioners — especially the youngest and most vulnerable church members.
“No more secrets, no more cover-ups. We need to know the truth,” Sattler told The Associated Press after Lori’s letter was made public. “How can we plan and pray for healing when sins are still being hidden from us and the abusers are still being hid in the bottom drawers of the bishop’s office?”
The crisis over clergy sex abuse has long been a major concern of parishioners in Maryland, a U.S. state that is steeped in Catholicism like few others.
Baltimore was home to the first U.S. bishop, first cathedral, first diocese and first archdiocese. The first order of black nuns and the first black parish was founded here. The city is also home to St. Mary’s Seminary, the nation’s first training ground for priests, and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg is the second U.S. seminary.
Over the years, the repercussions of abuse in Baltimore have included the shooting of a priest by a former altar boy, who said the priest had molested him nearly a decade earlier.
Clergy abuse and cover-ups in Baltimore was recently the subject of a Netflix documentary series called “The Keepers.” The show explores the theory that nun Cathy Cesnik was murdered in 1969 because she knew about rampant abuse by A. Joseph Maskell, a chaplain and counselor at a Catholic high school during the 1960s and 1970s. Multiple people have accused Maskell, now dead, of sexual abuse.
U.S. bishops adopted widespread reforms in 2002 when clergy abuse became a national crisis for the church, including stricter requirements for reporting accusations to law enforcement and a streamlined process for removing clerics. But the Pennsylvania grand jury made very clear that more changes are needed. In a nearly 900-page report released Aug. 14, the grand jury alleged that more than 300 Roman Catholic priests had abused at least 1,000 children over the past seven decades in six Pennsylvania dioceses. It also accused senior church officials of systematically covering up complaints.
Sattler said he’s pleased to finally hear that the attorney general in his deeply Catholic state of Maryland is examining church files, but said he’s bracing for what may eventually come out of it.
“We don’t know what was in the files that were never brought to light,” Sattler said Monday. “So as Catholics, we are asking our archbishop and archbishops and cardinals all over the country: Now is the time to come clean.”