Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmidt will refer 12 former priests for prosecution after conducting a 13-month investigation into sexual abuse allegations made against members of Missouri’s Roman Catholic clergy.
“Sexual abuse of minors by members of Missouri’s four Roman Catholic dioceses has been a far-reaching, long-standing scandal. No region of the State of Missouri has been spared,” reads the attorney general’s report.
“For decades, faced with credible reports of abuse, the church refused to acknowledge the victims and instead focused its efforts on protecting its priests. During this time, the responsibility for evaluating and responding to reports of abuse and misconduct was controlled by a small circle of priests in diocesan leadership and the bishops.”
In total, the investigation revealed that 163 priests had been accused of sexually abusing children in Missouri since 1945, according to the Associated Press (AP). Nearly half of the priests have already died, and among those living, 46 cannot be charged because the statute of limitations on their crimes has expired.
In a press conference Friday, Schmidt called the “betrayal of trust and of innocence” in the Church “devastating and in many instances incomprehensible,” reports the AP. His office has decided to focus on those priests who committed crimes, and has declined to consider recommending members of the church hierarchy for prosecution.
The AP reports that the investigation was launched after a Pennsylvania grand jury released a bombshell report in 2018 that found hundreds of priests had abused children over the last 70 years — and that church officials attempted to cover it up.
“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” reads the underlying grand jury report. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.”
According to the report, the FBI reviewed “a significant portion of the evidence” and found a “series of practices” that the grand jury calls akin to “a playbook for concealing the truth.” These practices included avoiding phrases like “rape” in favor of “inappropriate conduct” or “boundary issues,” and an admonishment to handle all matters without the involvement of police.
The grand jury report outlined the seven patterns the FBI found, which can be read below:
REPORT: First, make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents. Never say “rape”; say “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues.”
Second, don’t conduct genuine investigations with properly trained personnel. Instead, assign fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions and then make credibility determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work.
Third, for an appearance of integrity, send priests for “evaluation” at church -run psychiatric treatment centers. Allow these experts to “diagnose” whether the priest was a pedophile, based largely on the priest’s “self -reports,” and regardless of whether the priest had actually engaged in sexual contact with a child.
Fourth, when a priest does have to be removed, don’t say why. Tell his parishioners that he is on “sick leave,” or suffering from “nervous exhaustion.” Or say nothing at all.
Fifth, even if a priest is raping children, keep providing him housing and living expenses, although he may be using these resources to facilitate more sexual assaults.
Sixth, if a predator’s conduct becomes known to the community, don’t remove him from the priesthood to ensure that no more children will be victimized. Instead, transfer him to a new location where no one will know he is a child abuser.
Finally and above all, don’t tell the police. Child sexual abuse, even short of actual penetration, is and has for all relevant times been a crime. But don’t treat it that way; handle it like a personnel matter, “in house.”