Kentucky attorney general wants to investigate state Catholic dioceses
by Caitlin McGlade, Louisville Courier Journal –
Demonstrators gathered outside the Cathedral of the Assumption in downtown Louisville to protest the Catholic Church’s handling of child sex abuse. Nikki Boliaux, Courier Journal
The Kentucky attorney general will seek the Legislature’s permission to form a statewide grand jury to investigate Kentucky’s Catholic dioceses in line with last month’s damning report on Pennsylvania Catholic churches.
That report showed church leaders protected more than 300 “predator priests” for decades in six Pennsylvania dioceses because they were more interested in safeguarding the church and the abusers than in ministering to victims.
Deputy Attorney General J. Michael Brown said his office has been in contact with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and that his staff will “in the near future” draft legislation to put to lawmakers in Frankfort.
“We are working to secure justice for individual survivors who have reached out to the Attorney General’s office,” Brown said in a statement.
In response, the Archdiocese told the Courier Journal that “we have always cooperated with the authorities in our response to sexual abuse and will continue to do so.”
The attorney general’s announcement followed a protest at the steps of the Cathedral of Assumption in downtown Louisville, in which about two-dozen Catholic sex abuse victims and their advocates gathered to condemn the Catholic Church.
The group, which urged the AG to investigate dioceses here, demanded the Archdiocese of Louisville take 16 steps to rectify the legacy of widespread abuse.
The protest was one of nine held around the nation in the wake of Pennsylvania’s grand jury report.
The local protesters, who included parishioners, victims, social workers and ex-Catholics, said both the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Catholic Church as a whole have failed to support victims of sex abuse and to hold accountable complicit church staff.
Some waved signs demanding transparency, advocating for feminist theology or calling for parishioners to “step up and be on the side of truth.”
Frank Diebold, a victim of abuse as an altar boy, drew a contrast between the way Papa John’s handled its leader and how the Vatican is handling an accused cardinal.
Papa John’s ousted their namesake and founder, John Schnatter, shortly after executives learned he used the n-word in a conference call.
“And the Catholic Church can’t get rid of a cardinal,” Diebold said. “Who’s got more integrity? The pizza shop or the Catholic Church?”
The Louisville Archdiocese paid $25.7 million in the early 2000s to 240 people who said they were sexually abused by priests, religious brothers and church employees.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) says the archdiocese has not done enough to rectify those crimes and issued the following demands:
- Stop using euphemisms like “inappropriate behavior” when speaking about sexual abuse of children, which includes rape and sodomy.
- Fire employees who knew of the cover-up of sexually abusive priests.
- Severely discipline any priests who knew of sexual abuse taking place.
- Cut off all financial support to priests convicted of crimes.
- Appoint victims of priest sexual abuse to the Archdiocese of Louisville board that reviews allegations. (Archbishop Joseph Kurtz said the board until recently has had a victim member.)
- Post the names and assignments of credibly accused priests
- Amend the sex-abuse training document used by all employees and volunteers who work with children, which scarcely references priests as possible abusers.
- Stop requiring victims to agree to confidentiality agreements to receive settlements.
- Invite victims to meet with seminarians and new priests.
- Put more women in prominent roles.
- Establish support groups for victims.
- Explain to the public in greater detail what happens when the church commits priests to a “life of prayer and penance,” a form of dismissal from ministry following credible sex abuse allegations.
- List dates and locations of efforts showing what the archdiocese has done to help victims heal.
- Provide a complete list of settlements paid since 1990, including names of abusive priests and settlement amounts.
- Launch a speaker’s forum at Bellarmine University featuring the foremost authorities on sex abuse within the Catholic church.
- Commission a statue that commemorates victims.
Cal Pfeiffer, leader of the Louisville chapter of SNAP, said at the protest that walls need to come down between church leadership and victims.
“Forgiving is a tough concept, especially when some of the people that need to be forgiven don’t even ask for it, don’t reach out for forgiveness,” he said. “Forgiveness is also critical for victims and survivors in their healing. It would sure help if there was something to latch on to where they feel the church, Archdiocese, the pope are really behind them.”
The group wants Kurtz to respond by the end of this month.
Kurtz on Monday released a statement saying that some suggestions he heard are already in place, others require action on a broader scale and a number of them are good to consider for the future.
He invited Catholics to join him in a prayer and fasting on Oct. 5 and said he will release a report in October that chronicles how the Archdiocese has handled sexual abuse.
He wrote that he also is traveling this week to Washington, D.C., to meet with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where the group will discuss how best to report bishop misconduct and resolve complaints.
“I agree with the victim survivors and advocates that the truth of sexual abuse by priests and other Church leaders needs to be faced squarely. Silence is not the answer,” he wrote in an email. “There may have been judgement calls made over the years that individuals disagree with, and I respect their right to disagree.”
He said he has consistently and promptly reported abuse to authority, removed offenders and communicated with local parishes.
He noted that a third-party audit recently found the diocese compliant with the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002. Among other things, the charter calls on churches to create safe spaces for children, promptly and effectively respond to allegations, cooperate with civil authorities and help survivors heal.
Since 2003, more than 48,000 volunteers and employees who work with children have undergone background checks and completed a workshop on ways to spot abuse.
“It’s a need for us as a community to always repair and renew ourselves,” Kurtz said. “The Church of Jesus Christ is one that requires us to seek to protect one another and that is my intent.”
This is a developing story. Check the Courier Journal for updates.
Caitlin McGlade: 502-582-4144; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @caitmcglade. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/caitlinm.