‘It’s not enough’: Victims group wants church leadership, AG’s office to push for statewide investigations of ‘pedophile priest’ allegations

‘It’s not enough’: Victims group wants church leadership, AG’s office to push for statewide investigations of ‘pedophile priest’ allegations
A pastoral letter from Bishop Shelton Fabre of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux included the list of all names of priests who served in the diocese with credible allegations of the sexual abuse of a minor since the inception of the diocese in 1977.

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) continues to call for Louisiana’s legal authorities and church leadership to “take action” against priests in the Roman Catholic Church who’ve been credibly accused of sexual abuse of juveniles.

In 2018, Catholic dioceses across the United States began identifying “predatory” priests following a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania. The investigation, spearheaded by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, identified hundreds of priests who faced allegations dating back decades.

The Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge and two other Louisiana dioceses, the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, have since released lists.

“It is notable that Bishop Michael Duca went a step further than many of his brother bishops in ensuring that his list also includes the date that the allegations were first received, as well as what action was taken by church officials and when. SNAP has been asking for this kind of transparency. Yet we still believe that there should be an independent investigation by independent governmental officials into clergy sex abuse and cover ups in Louisiana.” SNAP said in a statement. “We encourage Bishop Duca to continue showing other Catholic officials the right way to do things by personally appealing to Attorney General Jeff Landry to launch an investigation into his diocese and other dioceses in the state. Only trained law enforcement professionals can truly judge when an accusation is “credible” or not and compel full transparency.”

A third Louisiana diocese, the Diocese of Lafayette, has not yet released its list. Instead, KATC made public a list of 42 names investigators compiled using public records.

Lennon says he expects within three months the true number will rise significantly as new names surface. As they do, Lennon hopes the priest abuse lists will also include names of those who helped with cover-ups, including every single accused church employee: bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, brothers, nuns and lay people, no matter who supervised or ordained them, and no matter where they originated.

“When the Diocese releases its list, it must be complete. It must include those clergy abusers who are women religious, i.e., nuns. Nuns abuse as well. And we need to take into consideration the many religious order priests such as the Jesuits, Franciscans, Salesians, Christian Brothers, etc., who minister or teach in the Diocese of Lafayette. They need to be included. When they are assigned to the Diocese they ‘kiss the ring’ of the Bishop. Therefore, those religious order priests must be included as abusers in those ranks as they are a threat to the community as well,” Lennon said.

SNAP says lists should be permanently included on the diocesan website and run at least quarterly in every parish bulletin.

On the steps of Landry’s office, Lennon previously said Attorney General Jeff Landry needs to be more aggressive in investigating church sex abuse cases, pleading with Louisiana residents to demand that investigation.

“It is indeed telling that the recent disclosures of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, and Diocese of Layfayette show over a hundred of predators of children and minors within one institution yet the Attorney General of Louisiana fails to follow the courageous actions of other attorney generals and take action,” said Lennon.

SNAP maintains a list of states that have supported investigations by establishing phone lines staffed by professionals to make it easier for victims to come forward. Louisiana remains absent from that list.

Landry previously said his hands are tied. In a statement released after Lennon’s visit to his office, Landry said the decision rests with local district attorneys. You can read that statement below.

“Today, we welcomed a group of men and women to our office who came to have their voices heard. I share their passionate cry to bring child predators to justice. As a father and as Attorney General, the safety of our children is one of my greatest priorities. Whether sexual abuse is committed by a member of the clergy, a school official, a first responder, or a family member, crimes against children should not be tolerated. I highly encourage victims to report any potential crime to the law enforcement office and district attorney in the city or parish where the potential crime took place. It is important to note and remember that law enforcement cannot investigate a potential crime until they have received a complaint of criminal activity. The law of the State of Louisiana does not give me, as Attorney General, the authority to take a prosecution from a district attorney without their request or to launch a statewide prosecution against a person or group. Though the law may prohibit me from doing those things, I have instructed my office to assist in any investigation or prosecution done by local law enforcement if assistance is requested of us. As Attorney General, I offer my full commitment to doing all I legally can to rule out all types of criminal activity.”

Lennon noted to NOLA.com that other attorneys general are finding ways around similar barriers, like the New York attorney general who is partnering with local district attorneys because she cannot convene a grand jury herself.

SNAP says credible investigations must be independent of and separate from the church, and must have subpoena powers and ability to compel testimony under oath. The organization describes anything short of those criteria as a “sham and whitewash.”

SNAP encourages anyone who may have suffered, witnessed, or suspected abuse at the hands of Church workers to contact the Louisiana Child Abuse Hotline at 855-452-5437 to make a report, or contact independent support groups.

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