State takes first step to­ward priest sex abuse in­ves­ti­ga­tion

The Sacramento Bee - - Capitol & California - BY MATTHIAS GAFNI East Bay Times

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.

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