‘You die on the inside’ — Abuse victims ask for Kansas, Missouri to open grand jury investigations
Angered by a column in a Missouri newspaper that said he wasn’t doing enough to investigate clergy sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, Attorney General Josh Hawley on Tuesday took to social media.
“We are seeking court orders to acquire information needed from the dioceses to ensure a full, thorough, and independent investigation,” Hawley said in a tweet just before noon.
And two hours later: “We are prepared to use every tool at our disposal to ensure a thorough and independent investigation to find the facts and the truth.”
The tweets were in response to an op-ed piece published Monday in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It was written by Kansas City attorney Rebecca Randles, who has represented hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims, and David Clohessy, former director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
“One of us is an advocate who has, over the past 30 years, spoken with more clergy sex abuse victims than perhaps anyone anywhere,” they wrote. “The other is an attorney who has, over the past 25 years, represented more than 300 people assaulted by Catholic priests, nuns, brothers and seminarians and has talked to roughly 300 more.
“But we’ve essentially gotten silence from the attorney general’s office.”
They said St. Louis attorney Ken Chackes, who has represented more than 100 priest sex abuse victims, also had not heard from Hawley.
On Tuesday, Hawley tweeted that the column was “false.”
“We have spoken with the current president and executive director of SNAP multiple times, as well as former leadership of SNAP,” he said. “We have spoken with other victims groups, those representing victims and dozens & dozens of victims and witnesses.”
But in their op-ed piece, Randles and Clohessy said that Hawley’s refusal to reach out to them “speaks volumes about his intentions.”
“It’s hard to give Hawley the benefit of the doubt when he refuses to even make a simple phone call to those with considerable knowledge of the scandal in Missouri and have spent years trying to improve it,” they said.
When asked for more details about his tweet, Hawley’s communications director responded in an email.
“The AGO has sought personnel records, records relating to allegations of abuse, and other potentially relevant materials from Catholic organizations across the state,” Mary Compton said. “We are seeking court orders regarding the production of those materials in order to ensure full compliance with all applicable privacy laws.”
In late August, Hawley announced that his office was conducting a “thorough and robust investigation” of potential clergy sex abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He said his office had full cooperation from St. Louis church officials, and he encouraged other dioceses in the state to allow similar investigations.
The state’s other dioceses, including Kansas City-St. Joseph, pledged their cooperation as well.
Hawley’s announcement came after a grand jury in Pennsylvania issued a shocking report that said church leaders had covered up sexual abuse by hundreds of priests over seven decades.
The report contained horrific details of some of the abuse and prompted demands for accountability from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Calls went out across the country for other states to conduct similar investigations into clergy sexual abuse, and several victims of clergy sexual abuse gathered outside Hawley’s St. Louis office to demand he investigate.
At the time of his announcement, Hawley told reporters that under Missouri law, only locally elected prosecutors have the power to subpoena or to convene a grand jury.
Compton said that’s the reason Hawley is seeking court orders to obtain necessary records.
Hawley, a Republican who earlier this month defeated Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill for a U.S. Senate seat, said in August that “we will go where the evidence leads us, and we will be thorough.”
Hawley’s office did not respond to a question about what happens with the investigation when he takes his Senate seat in January.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph told The Star in an email Tuesday that the diocese was aware of Hawley’s request for court orders.
“The AG’s office advised us in early November that they would be seeking court orders for the production of files,” said communications director Jack Smith.
“The diocese indicated that we’d cooperate fully and would not object to any order. To date, we have not received any order or notice of filing for an order.”