California Attorney General Xavier Becerra will audit all 12 of California’s Roman Catholic dioceses – including the Diocese of Sacramento – on their reporting procedures in sex abuse cases.
The AG’s chief question: Did church officials follow California law and report allegations of sexual misconduct to law enforcement?
Becerra’s sent letters to each of California’s dioceses Thursday asking for church officials to preserve files and records of clergy sex abuse and mandatory reporting to his office, according to Sacramento diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery.
“This voluntary disclosure will enable the Attorney General, in his role as the chief law officer of the state, to ensure that the laws of the State are uniformly and adequately enforced,” Becerra’s letter to the Sacramento diocese read.
Six of the 12 California dioceses – Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange County, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose – will also be required to turn over those same files to the state Department of Justice within 30 days.
The Sacramento diocese “regularly trains all mandated reporters about their obligations to report to law enforcement,” said Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto said in a prepared statement Friday afternoon. All priests, teachers and staff in contact with children are mandated reporters, Eckery said.
“Even those who are not mandated reporters are reminded of the moral obligation to be aware for the signs of child abuse and to report it when there is a reasonable suspicion an abuse as occurred,” Soto stated.
“As is our policy, we intend to cooperate with the Attorney General’s request and will work out the details with them directly.”
Last November, Becerra began gathering information on clergy sex abuse, requesting victims submit complaints to his office. It remains unclear what that information would be used for – his office has not said whether it would convene a state grand jury to investigative clergy abuse, as Pennsylvania did last summer.
The request for documents from diocese marks the first step by the Attorney General’s office towards a full investigation. Eckery stated, however, that the request “isn’t a massive grand jury report” but a “pretty straightforward narrowly described question.”
“We intend to comply with both the spirit and the letter of what they’re asking for,” Eckery said.
The news of the statewide audit comes just days after the diocese released records that revealed more than 40 priests were credibly accused of sexually abusing some 130 people in the past 70 years. Soto told The Sacramento Bee on Tuesday “the issue of sexual abuse in the church haunts me and will haunt me in the future.”
In all, credible accusations were levied against 44 priests and two permanent deacons in the Sacramento diocese. Many of the accusations, The Bee reported, were in isolated, rural communities in the 1970s.
“We think it’s a long time coming,” said Joey Piscitelli, a board member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. “We’re glad (Becerra is) doing it, we think it’s a bad idea for entities that have a history of covering up child abuse to report on themselves and that’s what they’ve been doing. They have not been transparent in the past, and they have a history of covering things up.”
SNAP offers support groups and other services for survivors of sexual assault. Melanie Sakoda, a SNAP survivor support coordinator, said she expects more victims to come forward as a result of Becerra’s audit.
“Usually when something like this happens, it stirs up a lot of memories,” said Melanie Sakoda, a Survivor Support Coordinator with SNAP. “We want victims to know that they are in charge of their story.”
California’s 12 diocese cover the nation’s largest bloc of Catholics, an estimated 10 million worshipers. The Diocese of Sacramento serves about 1 million parishioners from Solano County to the Oregon state line.
As Bishop Soto told The Bee, “People were isolated. In the case of good priests, they thrived. But for predator priests, this was a recipe for disaster.”