NEW YORK — Two state attorneys general that have issued reports on the Catholic Church’s handling of clerical sexual abuse cases doubled-down on Monday, defending their efforts and saying the Church cannot be responsible for policing itself.
Former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Josh Shapiro, Attorney General of Pennsylvania, took part in a panel discussion at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, where Madigan said the Church “failed to react properly, they haven’t put in place the policies, they haven’t put in place procedures, they haven’t admitted what has happened,” when it came to its handling of clerical abuse.
In December, Madigan released a report saying that the state’s six dioceses had not released the names of more than 500 priests accused of abuse. The report was a preliminary look into Illinois’ handling of sex abuse cases that is now being carried on by her successor, Kwame Raoul.
Madigan’s report follows a wave of state investigations into the Catholic Church set off by Shapiro’s August grand jury report, which he described as “the largest scope in this country…maybe in the history of the world.”
On Monday, Shapiro sharply criticized what he described as the Church’s efforts to minimize or hide cases of abuse.
“Contained in the files of these predator priests were words like ‘horseplay’ that was used to describe the rape of an 11-year-old boy,” Shapiro said of his investigation.
In a podcast interview with the center’s founder, former Obama political adviser David Alexrod, following the panel discussion, Shapiro said “the Church fought us every step of the way” during the investigation.
The panel discussion came just two weeks ahead of the Vatican’s high-stakes Feb. 21-24 summit on clerical abuse, in which Pope Francis will convene the head of every bishops’ conference around the globe. Chicago’s archbishop, Cardinal Blase Cupich, is one of the meeting’s organizers.
Both Shapiro and Madigan said their major hope for the meeting is to recognize that the Church needs to involve secular authorities in policing itself.
“I hope whatever comes out of this meeting in February includes some sort of recognition that secular authorities must be part of the solution,” said Shapiro.
Madigan echoed those thoughts, adding “You can’t hold yourself out as the ultimate moral authority and be raping and molesting children.”
Yet despite the widespread outrage to the clerical sexual abuse crisis, sparked in large part due to Shapiro’s efforts, his findings have been subject to serious scrutiny by veteran religion reporter, Peter Steinfels.
In a 12,000-word essay published last month in Commonweal, Steinfels charged that both the motivation and methodology of the Pennsylvania report was questionable, concluding that Shapiro’s more than 1,000-page report is “grossly misleading, irresponsible, inaccurate, and unjust.”
When asked about those claims by Axelrod, Shapiro said he had not read the Steinfels essay but said his argument that the Church’s efforts in 2002 to enact a zero tolerance policy for abusers have effectively worked were “demonstrably false.”
He pointed to the fact that “there are bishops in Pennsylvania…still in a position of power” who had known of cases of abuse as evidence.
Shapiro went on to note that since the report’s release, his office has received nearly 1,500 calls to its clergy abuse hotline.
Steinfels, however, maintains that ahead of this month’s closely watched summit, Shapiro’s report fails to tell the full story.
“Justified alarm and demands for accountability at instances of either deliberate noncompliance or bureaucratic incompetence should not be wrenched into an ill-founded pretense that, fundamentally, nothing has changed,” he wrote.
“But American bishops should go to the Vatican’s February summit meeting on sexual abuse confident that the measures they’ve already adopted have made an important difference,” concluded Steinfels.