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Victims group contacts La. governor to demand statewide investigation into pedophile priest allegations

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Published: May. 28, 2020 at 2:36 PM CDT
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(WAFB) - The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) reached out to Governor John Bel Edwards as part of its latest request for a statewide investigation into child sex abuse allegations involving religious authorities in Louisiana.

The request came in an email sent to the Edwards’ office, officials over Louisiana State Police (LSP), and members of the media.

SNAP is asking Gov. Edwards to direct LSP to lead the investigation, based on statements SNAP leaders said were made by Attorney General Jeff Landry.

Those statements suggest it would have to be LSP that performs the investigation, SNAP leaders said.

Richard Windmann, leader of the state’s SNAP chapter, said that the request was made now because the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans submitted filings for bankruptcy protection.

Windmann said the church choosing to file for bankruptcy is a “tactic” aimed a shielding certain evidence from public view.

He claims similar strategies have, “been used by church officials in the past as a way to seal depositions and other documents related to abuse and cover-ups from being made public.”

“This is not a problem that is unique to Louisiana. However, the way that Louisiana has chosen to deal with it is a problem,” said Windmann, taking aim at Attorney General Landry. “This problem does not serve to protect our children.”

Landry was previously contacted by SNAP to open an investigation in January of 2019.

On the steps of Landry’s office, SNAP leaders demanded that he take a more aggressive approach in investigating church sex abuse cases.

“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,” SNAP president Tim Lennon said in 2019.

Lennon’s statement was based partly on a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania spearheaded by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro which, in 2018, led to Catholic dioceses across the United States identifying hundreds of “predatory” priests who faced allegations dating back decades.

The Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, were among the dioceses which released lists.

Landry responded by saying his hands were tied.

In a statement released after Lennon’s visit to his office, Landry said the decision rests with local district attorneys and state police.

“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,” Landry’s statement said in part.

In his email, Windmann said those rules create another set of issues.

“But it is a serious problem when the district attorney in Lafayette says on public TV that he doesn’t have to do an investigation because ‘the church has already done their investigation.’ It is a huge problem when our state law recognizes and bows down to canon law. The church has proven time and time again that it is not capable of policing itself,” wrote Windmann.

Windmann shared concerns that the failure to launch an investigation could create opportunities for alleged offenders to destroy evidence and would lead to federal involvement, “tarnishing the reputation of our state.”

“I love my home state, and we do not need another black eye,” said Windmann.

SNAP argues “credible” investigations must be independent of and separate from the church, and must involve the use of subpoena powers and the ability to compel testimony under oath.

The organization describes anything short of those criteria as a “sham and whitewash.”

SNAP has also called on churches to released additional lists of credibly accused priests that also include names of those who helped with alleged cover-ups.

The organization says that list would include every single accused church employee: bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, brothers, nuns, and laypeople, no matter who supervised or ordained them, and no matter where they originated.

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

The organization also 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.

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

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