NEW YORK – Amid a campaign for the governorship, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced on May 9 that he has taken legal action against the Archdiocese of Seattle, alleging that it has “refused to comply” with his investigation into whether the three Washington dioceses used charitable funds to cover up allegations of child sex abuse by clergy.

Later May 9, the archdiocese responded that it was blindsided with Ferguson’s decision, maintaining that it welcomes the investigation because “we have shared the common goal of abuse prevention, healing for victims and transparency.”

“We have been collaborating with the Attorney General’s legal team on the shared legal analysis, which is common for investigations like this,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “Today’s press conference was a surprise to us since we welcome the investigation and have been working closely with the Attorney General’s team for months now.”

Ferguson’s office first sent subpoenas to the Archdiocese of Seattle, the Diocese of Spokane, and the Diocese of Yakima in July 2023. It then sent a second set of subpoenas to the dioceses in April seeking additional information, including accounting and financial records.

Ferguson’s office accuses the archdiocese of refusing to cooperate with the subpoenas, and for that reason has filed a court petition to get it enforced. Ferguson’s office is asking the King County Superior Court to hear the petition on May 22.

In a May 9 news release, Ferguson’s office said that usually it does not comment on investigations, including confirming whether they exist. However, Ferguson’s office noted, this investigation became public once it had to seek a court order to move the investigation forward.

“Washingtonians deserve a public accounting of how the Catholic Church handles allegations of child sex abuse, and whether charitable dollars were used to cover it up,” Ferguson, a Democrat, said in a statement. “As a Catholic, I am disappointed that the Church refuses to cooperate with our investigation.”

“Our goal is to use every tool we have to reveal the truth, and give a voice to survivors,” he added. “If you or a loved one have been impacted by clergy abuse, please contact my office.”

If the investigation into the Archdiocese of Seattle reveals any violation of the law, Ferguson’s office said it “will take all steps within its power to seek justice, and put into place any appropriate oversight and monitoring to ensure that children are not exposed to abuse in the future.”

As for the Dioceses of Spokane and Yakima, Ferguson’s office said that each responded to the original subpoenas only with information that was already public, and therefore sending out the second set of subpoenas was deemed necessary. Ferguson’s office has not yet taken action against the Spokane and Yakima dioceses, but said it is prepared to do so if they refuse to comply with the second subpoenas.

In a May 9 news conference, Ferguson alleged all three dioceses are withholding information.

“The church has more information than is shared with the public,” Ferguson said. “It has released names, but has not released its files on these abusive priests. No one has read files. The purpose of our investigation is to uncover whether the church has misused charitable trust funds to cover up systemic sexual abuse and shield abuse of priests.”

The Archdiocese of Seattle, in response, has vigorously defended its track record.

The archdiocese said it “has welcomed” the opportunity to cooperate with Ferguson’s investigation. The archdiocese also said that it has a good understanding of the content of its files and has no concerns about sharing them with Ferguson “lawfully and fairly.”

The archdiocese also defended its track record, highlighting actions it has taken to prevent and respond to clergy sex abuse in the archdiocese. Some of the more recent actions, dating back to 2016, include publishing a public list of credibly accused clergy, launching a website that provides on the issue of clergy sex abuse in the archdiocese that includes prevention efforts and support for victims and their families, and expanding its victim assistance support resources.

This year, the archdiocese said it is launching a healing ministry for victims and their families, as well.

“The Archdiocese of Seattle is committed to preventing the crime of sexual abuse and providing support and healing for victims and their families,” the archdiocese said.

“Only by addressing this issue directly, will victims and the Church find healing. However, based on the recommendations and guidance of professionals, we must do so in a way that protects the privacy of victims and ensures they are not re-traumatized,” the archdiocese said.

“It is with this spirit that the Archdiocese of Seattle welcomes this opportunity to cooperate with the Attorney General’s request to demonstrate how the Archdiocese of Seattle has  handled allegations of sexual abuse and how we are protecting children,” the archdiocese concluded.

Including Washington, 23 state attorney generals have announced investigations into the Catholic Church. In the past five years, six states have produced reports detailing their findings, with the other investigations still ongoing. Perhaps the most notable of the reports is the report on the six Pennsylvania dioceses, which identified more than 300 abuser priests going back to 1947.

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