Attorney General Schmitt at press conference in St. Louis September 13, 2019 (photo Jill Enders)

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is referring twelve former clergy members accused of sexual abuse for prosecution. Schmitt’s office has concluded a year-long investigation into the four Catholic dioceses in the state.

In a Friday press conference in St. Louis, Schmitt said, “For decades, faced with credible reports of abuse, the church refused to acknowledge the victims and instead focused their efforts on protecting priests.”

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office must refer the cases to local prosecutors.

“In cases in which local prosecutors should seek our assistance, we stand ready and willing to help, he said Friday. “To the victims: you didn’t deserve any of this. None of what happened to you was your fault. This report, our referrals for criminal prosecution, our aggressive and substantive suggestions for reform, will not change what happened in the past. But, they can change the trajectory of the future and ensure that this never happens again.”

Schmitt, who is also Catholic, also outlined recommendations for church leaders: “Diocese [sic] should  assume greater responsibility and oversight over all religious order priests and priest visiting or relocating from other dioceses; number two, the diocese should ensure that their independent review boards are composed entirely of laypeople and that the determinations of credibility and sanctions will be given authoritative weight with respect to the ability of the offending priest and minister in its diocese.”

The investigation, initiated by the previous Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, reports that 163 clergy members were accused of sexual misconduct against minors. Of those, 80 have died, according to previous news reports.

Archbishop Robert Carlson released this statement in response to the investigation:

“The Archdiocese of St. Louis has cooperated in full transparency with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office throughout their investigation and will continue to cooperate fully with civil authorities on cases of clergy abuse of a minor. The Attorney General’s report confirms the progress the archdiocese has made in implementing the protocols to protect our children; and while we cannot predict nor control all human behavior, those protocols have resulted in no acts of physical sexual abuse since the Charter of 2002. We are taking the Attorney General’s recommendations to the Catholic Church into careful consideration and will continue to evaluate and enhance our safe environment programs for the safety of all of our families.”

Steven Spaner of the Survivors Network of those Abused By Priests (SNAP) says the investigation did not go after all of the evidence.

“They say they asked for the documents but they should have asked for subpoena power from the Legislature so that they could truly ask for the documents that are what they call ‘secret archives.'”

Reported by Jill Enders and Ashley Byrd