ST. LOUIS (AP) — Victims of clergy sexual abuse are calling for a wide-scale investigation of sex crime allegations against Catholic priests in Missouri, and whether the church participated in a cover-up.
One victim, a woman whose son killed himself after being abused as a teenager, and an attorney for other abuse victims spoke Wednesday outside the St. Louis office of Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley. They urged a statewide investigation similar to one in Pennsylvania that uncovered more than 1,000 cases of abuse.
David Clohessy, 61, of St. Louis, a longtime victims’ rights advocate who was abused as a child, said more than 170 priests in Missouri have been accused in recent decades, but few have been convicted. He blamed prosecutors who aren’t “assertive or creative enough in exposing and pursuing these wrongdoers.”
Hawley’s office has said it can help local prosecutors, but it doesn’t have jurisdiction to launch its own investigation.
But St. Louis attorney Nicole Gorovsky, who represents sexual abuse survivors in civil cases, said Hawley, a Republican, could take steps such as a civil lawsuit or coordinating with federal and local prosecutors.
“The victims need validation that they will be believed, that this will not keep happening,” Gorovsky said.
In the wake of the Pennsylvania report , Pope Francis vowed Monday that “no effort must be spared” to root out clergy sex abuse and cover-up from the Catholic Church, and begged forgiveness for the pain suffered by victims.
Pennsylvania’s attorney general said bishops shared the blame because they “protected their institution at all costs.” Clohessy said church leaders in Missouri act with “similar recklessness, callousness and deceit.”
Mary Ellen Kruger, 76, of Webster Groves said her son was abused by a priest and another man at a Catholic high school in the 1980s. Both men served time in prison, but her son killed himself in 1991.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis said in a statement that Archbishop Robert Carlson “has heard many recommendations for action items in the wake of the grand jury report from Pennsylvania and is prayerfully considering what steps to take to demonstrate accountability and transparency in confronting the evil of sexual abuse by clergy.”
The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph cooperates “fully with law enforcement and are eager to do so in order to prevent and eliminate dangers to children and vulnerable adults,” spokesman Jack Smith said in a statement. He said the diocese has an independent ombudsman who immediately reports accusations of abuse to law enforcement.
Messages left with the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau and the Diocese of Jefferson City were not immediately returned.