BALTIMORE — Maryland’s top law enforcement official on Thursday announced a phone hotline for victims to report child sex abuse associated with a place of worship or school across the U.S. state, which is steeped in Catholicism like few others.
Attorney General Brian Frosh announced the creation of the hotline in Baltimore, home to the country’s first bishop, first cathedral, first diocese and first archdiocese. Unlike counterparts in other states that have formally announced probes into clergy sex abuse, Frosh’s office has only publicly called for victims of abusers linked to schools or places of worship to come forward.
But last year, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori wrote priests and deacons in the archdiocese advising them that Frosh’s office was delving into church records as part of an investigation into child sex abuse. He has pledged full cooperation throughout the process.
Zach Hiner, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, praised the launch of the hotline, saying it gives abuse victims a “new avenue to come forward” and name their abusers.
But he said Frosh and Maryland lawmakers needed to do more. Attorneys general have launched investigations in states including New Jersey, New York, Nebraska, Florida and Delaware, and in cities where local prosecutors are looking into individual priests. Frosh’s office does not confirm or deny the existence of any investigations.
“We hope that this hotline will not only lead to more survivors coming forward, but also provide an impetus for the attorney general to open a full investigation and for Maryland’s state legislature to begin reforming their statutes of limitations and opening civil windows for old cases to be brought forward,” Hiner said Thursday.
Liz McCloskey, part of a coalition of Catholics called the 5 Theses movement that has posted its proposals for reform on church doors in Baltimore and other cities, said “allowing the full scope of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church to come to light in every diocese in every state will make room for a measure of healing for its survivors.”
The crisis over clergy sex abuse has long been a concern of parishioners in Maryland. 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 also were the subject of a Netflix documentary series called “The Keepers.” That series explores the theory that a nun, Cathy Cesnik, was killed 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. Several 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.
A recent Associated Press review has found nearly 50 dioceses and religious orders have publicly identified child-molesting priests in the wake of the Pennsylvania report, and 55 more have announced plans to do the same over the next few months. Together they account for more than half of the nation’s 187 dioceses. The review also found that nearly 20 local, state or federal investigations, either criminal or civil, have been launched since the release of the grand jury findings.