PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania — Newly inaugurated state attorneys general said they plan to continue investigations of clergy abuse in the Catholic Church as thousands of victims reach out to state hotlines and online systems to report past abuse.
At least 14 attorneys general around the country have confirmed investigations or reviews of clergy abuse in the wake of a shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report in August detailing seven decades of child sexual abuse by more than 300 predator priests. Six of those offices — New York, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Florida and Delaware — are helmed by newly elected attorneys general, including three of the states reporting the largest numbers of victims contacting them.
Almost 3,000 calls, emails and online reports of clergy abuse have been made in the last five months. Nearly half of those calls were made to the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office after its investigation was released.
That number doesn’t account for reports made to seven states that declined to disclose numbers from their reporting systems to The Associated Press, including states with large Catholic populations like New Jersey and California with a dozen dioceses. The number could be much higher with those included. Several states are seeing lower responses; Delaware reported only five victim contacts as of the beginning of the year.
“We have an entire team of people dedicated to investigating the allegations of sexual abuse by priests in Michigan’s seven Catholic dioceses,” said new Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, whose office had received more than 300 victim calls and emails in just a few months. “I am committed to ensuring we leave no stone unturned as we continue to receive additional information on our tip line and review the hundreds of thousands of pages of documents obtained in search warrants executed last fall.”
In New York, more than 550 people had submitted tips in the four months since former Attorney General Barbara Underwood launched a civil investigation in September. The investigation will continue under new Attorney General Letitia James, though the office would not discuss details about what has been found so far or what might come from the investigation.
A hotline started by former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan had received more than 350 calls as of the beginning of the year. Madigan released a preliminary report of findings in December — less than a month before leaving office — including that the state’s dioceses had received allegations against 500 priests that had not been made public in disclosures of credibly accused clergy. The report also found that investigations into some of those claims were “inadequate” or had not happened at all.
Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests have been meeting with attorneys general across the country to provide them with survivor accounts and to call on states to conduct investigations similar to Pennsylvania’s. The number of survivors contacting the group has also increased since that report, said SNAP President Tim Lennon.
“I would say a very significant increase, at least four times (at least) as many calls, emails, contacts, to me, to SNAP, and to other SNAP leaders,” Lennon wrote in an email.