Missouri and Kansas AGs must investigate sex abuse, cover-ups by Catholic clergy

Josh Hawley, left, and Eric Schmidt, attorneys general of Missouri and Kansas
Josh Hawley, left, and Eric Schmidt, attorneys general of Missouri and Kansas

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt must find a way to do something incredibly difficult and absolutely necessary. They must launch the kind of full-scale grand jury investigation into the systemic cover-up of child rape and other serious crimes by Catholic priests that their counterpart in Pennsylvania just completed.

Justice requires it. And no one else can do it.

Both Hawley’s office and Schmidt’s have said they don’t have jurisdiction but would help local prosecutors if asked.

We’ve noticed, though, that where there’s a will, there’s a loophole. And if local prosecutors do have to ask them to step in, then they should by all means do that.

Obviously, the Catholic hierarchy has proven itself incapable of investigating its own.

Lay-led internal investigations sound good, but in Kansas City and elsewhere across the country last Sunday, some congregations cheered their priests just for expressing contrition. On a human level, that determination to see some hope amid the wreckage is understandable, and even admirable. But as an answer to a long history of criminal behavior, it can only lead to more of the same.

The initial reactions from both Hawley’s office and Schmidt’s is that they stand ready to assist local prosecutors, but that’s obviously not going to happen everywhere, or maybe anywhere. And the whole point is that we need a complete and consistent accounting.

For too long, civil authorities showed such deference to men of the cloth that the state as well as the church failed to punish or even properly investigate clerical child rapists.

State officials no doubt feared being seen as persecuting the church. But with many Catholics themselves now crying out for an independent Truth Commission at long last, this isn’t only the right thing to do but the politically smart thing to do, too. In Hawley’s U.S. Senate race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, he is more likely to win votes than lose them by taking on this stomach-turning assignment.

In Pennsylvania, more than 1,000 children were raped or otherwise sexually abused by some 300 priests over the last 70 years.

Those in charge expressed more sympathy for abusers than for the children they hurt. For children they did not — yes, irony alert — even seem to see as people.

Victims in Missouri, Kansas and elsewhere deserve to know the full truth of what happened, with no further delay.

Kansas City attorney Rebecca Randles, who has represented hundreds of victims, said, “we have over 230 priests that we know of that have been sexually abusive in this area. And our population centers are much smaller.”

Tom Viviano, who filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of St. Louis two years ago alleging that for five years of his childhood, he was sexually abused by a priest, said that at age 62, “I still live with the pain of what happened to me when I was in grade school. What I’d like to see is a true, open, honest investigation. The church has not come forward. They want to offer up perhaps a prayer or a Mass of forgiveness .... The pope said we need to stop this culture of death. And it is a death. A part of you does die. Emotionally, spiritually, psychologically. You die on the inside. And that’s something every day I have to live with.”

Surely officials will find a way to respond to the third-grader that Viviano was, the 62-year-old he is, and the older man whose future suffering they still have the power to mitigate with a complete accounting.