Missouri AG refers 12 former Catholic priests for potential prosecution after abuse probe

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced Friday that his office had referred 12 former Roman Catholic priests for possible criminal prosecution following a 13-month probe of how diocesan leaders handled allegations of child abuse.

The investigation reviewed personnel records for every priest serving in Missouri since 1945 — more than 2,000 priests and 300 deacons, seminarians and religious women, Schmitt said. Investigators also spoke to abuse survivors and their relatives who contacted the attorney general's office.

Schmitt, a Republican and a Catholic, said that his investigators concluded the Church was involved in a “long, sustained and far-reaching cover-up" of abuse, finding 163 priests or clergy members accused of sexual abuse or misconduct against minors. Of the 80 who are still alive, the statute of limitations has expired on 46 of the crimes.

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The attorney general added that 16 of the remaining 34 cases have been previously referred for local prosecution and five cases have been or are being investigated by prosecutors. Another case is still under investigation by the Catholic Church, leaving the 12 cases referred by Smith.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is seen as a state senator in this 2013 photo. (Kile Brewer/The Jefferson City News-Tribune via AP, File)

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is seen as a state senator in this 2013 photo. (Kile Brewer/The Jefferson City News-Tribune via AP, File)

Schmitt said his office didn't consider recommending charges against anyone in the church hierarchy because the focus was on the "perpetrators of the crimes." David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests called that decision "tragic."

Clohessy, of St. Louis, also said Schmitt should have released more details about the alleged crimes and where they occurred.

"Even without naming individual names, he could still provide much more helpful information than he has," Clohessy said.

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Schmitt said the 12 referrals are the most by any state attorney general since a Pensylvania grand jury report in August 2018 accused upwards of 300 priests of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children.

"The betrayal of trust and of innocence is devastating and in many instances incomprehensible," said Schmitt, who added that the investigation's clergy abuse hotline will remain open and he encouraged any additional abuse victims to come forward.

Missouri's four Roman Catholic jurisdictions conducted their own internal investigations, too, but found fewer alleged crimes than the state investigation.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis investigation released in July found 61 clergy with what the archdiocese called "substantiated" allegations of sexual abuse of children. Thirty-four of the priests are deceased. The archdiocese said all of the living priests have been removed from the ministry. The list separately named three additional priests accused of possessing child pornography.

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The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese released its report last week, citing 19 clerics, none of them currently serving. Thirteen have died, two have been removed from ministry, and four have been laicized, or removed from the clerical state. One of the laicized clerics, Shawn Ratigan, is serving 50 years in federal prison on a 2013 conviction for producing or attempting to produce child pornography.

The other two dioceses released similar lists of accused religious leaders last year. The Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau identified 16 priests with credible accusations of sexual abuse of children. The Diocese of Jefferson City listed 35 credibly accused church officials, including 30 priests and five members of a religious order.