Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley has promised a thorough investigation of sexual abuse allegations lodged against priests and clergy in the Catholic Church.
Missourians should expect such an investigation, comparable to the recent investigation in Pennsylvania that exposed decades of abuse and maltreatment by priests.
If Hawley needs the power to subpoena church records, he should seek it — and get it.
Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests held a news conference Wednesday imploring Gov. Mike Parson to provide Hawley with such authority. The group thinks a full investigation should not rely on the voluntary cooperation of the institutions being investigated.
Church officials have promised to cooperate with Hawley, who announced his investigation in August. All four Catholic dioceses in Missouri, including the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese, have agreed to an independent review by the attorney general.
David Clohessy, a former SNAP director, said Wednesday that isn’t enough. “Bishops have worked very hard for a long time to keep these church documents hidden,” he said.
To date, investigating authorities have spent far too much time placing the responsibility for the probe in someone else’s hands. Hawley, for example, has said he lacks criminal jurisdiction in the matter, and any actual cases he finds will be referred to local prosecutors.
It turns out that there are ways for Hawley to assume prosecutorial responsibility in this investigation. Those steps should be taken as quickly as possible.
Prosecutors should step forward. Parson should accept the requests quickly and exercise any needed authority to provide the attorney general with full subpoena power. Hawley should then seek the information he needs, using that authority.
A full, transparent investigation is in the best interest of abuse victims, of course. And Missourians have every right to hear the full story of the church’s involvement in covering up abuse and misbehavior.
But a complete investigation would help the Catholic Church, too. Faith in the mission of the church and its credibility continue to erode, a trend that will continue until all Americans believe they’ve heard the unvarnished truth about decades of abuse and criminal behavior.
The attorney general is in the best position to seek that truth, and to make it public. Missourians should demand a full, independent examination of the record, and a complete report based on whatever papers, documents and testimony are needed.
If criminal charges are warranted, they should be pursued.
The time for obfuscation and misdirection by prosecutors and government officials is over. Missourians want to know the facts, and their government should provide those facts as quickly and thoroughly as possible.