State takes first step toward priest sex abuse investigation
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Wednesday that his office will begin collecting reports from California residents about clergy sex abuse, a likely first step in the state opening an investigation of Catholic priest abuse similar to a scathing grand jury probe in Pennsylvania earlier this year.
Becerra’s office created a website page devoted to clergy abuse, asking anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse or has information regarding sexual misconduct by clergy members to fill out an online complaint form or email ClergyAbuse@doj.ca.gov.
“In light of the news surrounding the sexual abuse of children by members of clergy or religious organizations across the country, the Department of Justice is gathering information from the public regarding complaints of this nature in California,” according to the website.
Becerra’s office has refused to confirm or deny an investigation into priest abuse since an explosive grand jury report in Pennsylvania was released over the summer, exposing hundreds of priest offenders, more than 1,000 victims and decades of cover-ups in six dioceses. But abuse advocates have said senior Department of Justice officials met with them in September and asked them questions about a possible probe, which gave advocates hope that California might join more than a dozen other states to launch their own probes since the August Pennsylvania report.
Federal investigators have also announced they plan to launch a criminal probe into the Pennsylvania dioceses, and the feds have also alerted Catholic officials nationwide to preserve any records of abuse.
Melanie Sakoda, a Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests leader in the East Bay, said her organization applauds the new development in California.
“We are grateful that Attorney General Xavier Becerra has followed in the footsteps of … colleagues across the nation and taken the first step towards an investigation of clergy sexual abuse in California,” she said.
On the online complaint page, the state stresses that mandated reporters, who are required by law to report reasonable suspicions of child abuse or neglect to police, are still required to report abuse through the proper channels.
The page asks for numerous pieces of information about the reporter, including if the individual is the victim or a witness, and if they are represented by an attorney. Participants are asked to name their abuser, if possible, including the religious affiliation and location of the subject.
The questionnaire also asks for details of the abuse, when it happened, where, the age of the victim, and had it been reported to police where an investigation was launched. It asks if any religious official had been notified of the abuse and contact information for any witnesses.