Report into Clergy Abuse Released in Missouri Fails to Get at Root of Clergy Abuse by Ignoring the Role of Church Officials and Cover-Up
Missouri’s top law enforcement official today released a report into clergy abuse in Missouri. The report released by A.G. Schmitt falls dramatically short of efforts by attorneys general in states like Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
One notable difference between the efforts in those states compared to the effort in Missouri is that those other attorneys general focused on making arrests as they could and kept the public informed of progress along the way, whereas in Missouri information was held back until today’s public release. Another notable difference is that those states used search warrants, subpoenas, and arrests to get the information they needed: in Missouri, the AG relied on cooperation with church officials.
We know that the best way to get survivors to come forward is to aggressively reach out to them and keep them informed of the status of the investigation. This is not what we saw happen in Missouri. We also know that church officials have long hidden abuse files from law enforcement officials in other states and find it hard to believe that A.G. Schmitt had complete access to those files.
We are glad that the twelve clergymen identified by AG Schmitt have been referred to prosecutors, but as best we can tell, the AG is exposing not one church official who committed or concealed or if child sex crimes. This is terribly worrisome, especially given that the report itself points out that that many of the cases the AG learned about were beyond the statute of limitations.
Getting abusers off the abusers off the street is a key step towards protecting other children. But it is equally critical that powerful men who used their power to support abusers instead of protecting children are identified to the public and pointed out to local police and prosecutors for further investigation. Children will be safer when the public is aware of who enabled these abusers, minimized the allegations against them, and covered-up their abuse.
But our largest issue with this report is with the recommendations offered by AG Schmitt. Instead of recommending reforms to intransigent church officials, he should be making recommendations to Missouri's elected officials and law enforcement agencies. He should be promoting secular recommendations like reforming the state’s archaic statute of limitations, setting up a tough state RICO law, or pushing state legislators to increase the AG office’s prosecutorial powers so that rooting out corruption and deceit in powerful institutions doesn't rest solely with individual, underfunded, and overworked county prosecutors and local police.
Reports like the ones from Pennsylvania and Illinois showed in plain detail how church officials were quick to abandon the supposedly binding recommendations in the Dallas charter. We predict that church officials in Missouri will claim to fully adopt the AG’s recommendations. We even more confidently predict that when the limelight fades, they will ignore these recommendations too.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)