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Virginia attorney general investigating potential child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy

November 12, 2018

RICHMOND, Va. -- Attorney General Mark Herring announced Wednesday he is launching a hotline dedicated to “rooting out” possible clergy abuse in the commonwealth.

It’s “part of an ongoing investigation into whether criminal sexual abuse of children may have occurred in Virginia’s Catholic dioceses, and whether leadership in the dioceses may have covered up or abetted any such crimes,” according to a news release.

The announcement comes a day after the District of Columbia’s attorney general said his office will open an investigation into sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the local archdiocese.

Virginia is now one of at least 13 states that launched investigations after a shocking grand jury report out of Pennsylvania this summer. That report identified thousands of victims and their abusers following a two-year investigation of Catholic dioceses in that state.

It also revealed that leaders of the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania helped cover up the child sexual abuse going back several decades. Herring said at a press conference Wednesday that his office started the probe a few days after the Pennsylvania report came out.

“Like so many Americans, I read the grand jury report on clergy abuse in the Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, and I felt sick,” Herring said in a statement. “It made me sick to see the extent of the damage done, the efforts to cover it up, and the complicity and enabling that went on by powerful people who should have known better and should have done more to protect vulnerable children.”

He added that “we shouldn’t assume the behavior and the problems are limited just to Pennsylvania or to one diocese. If there has been abuse or cover-up in Virginia like there was in Pennsylvania I want to know about it, I want to root it out, and I want to help survivors get justice and get on a path to healing.”

At the press conference, Herring said he’d heard from many Virginians after the Pennsylvania report who were “rightly concerned about what might’ve happened in Virginia.” “It’s certainly an unusual step (in law enforcement) to announce an ongoing investigation,” he said, “but in this instance ... we need the public’s help to get to the truth.”

People can report incidents of clergy or faith leader abuse anonymously through the new Virginia Clergy Abuse Hotline at 1-833-454-9064 and www.VirginiaClergyHotline.com

Virginia is home to two Catholic dioceses: Richmond, which includes 153 parishes statewide, and Arlington, which includes 69 in Northern Virginia. Hampton Roads is part of the Richmond diocese. A spokeswoman for the diocese did not immediately return requests for comment.

Earlier this month, Bishop Barry Knestout in Richmond led a rare Mass of Atonement, during which he apologized to survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy. He said he had committed to an independent audit of allegations against clergy members.

If the claims are found to be credible, Knestout has said the diocese will make the names of priests public.

Herring said the dioceses have been “cooperative at this point” and the investigation will “take as long as it needs to ... no matter how long it takes.”

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