A report released last week by the Nebraska attorney general’s office has rocked the U.S. Catholic church, documenting credible allegations by 258 victims against 57 church officials dating back to 1978.
But Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson has said none of the cases in the report will be prosecuted.
“The reality that we are unable to prosecute the offenders because of the perpetrator’s death, or as a result of the barrier created by the statute of limitations is beyond frustrating,” Mr. Peterson said in a statement.
While the state’s current bishops cooperated with the investigation, the attorney general noted that their predecessors “chose to place the reputation of the church above the protection of the children who placed their spiritual care in the hands of those in church authority.”
Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln and Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island said in a joint statement that they encourage anyone with additional allegations against the clergy named in the report to step forward.
“We acknowledge with sadness that so many innocent minors and young adults were harmed by Catholic clergy and other representatives of the Church,” the Nebraska bishops said.
Most of the alleged victims in the report (236) are male, and many are former altar servers.
In the Omaha diocese, most of the accusers were between 11 and 13 years old when the alleged incidents occurred; in Lincoln, most were in their 20s.
The majority of alleged incidents occurred before the 2002 clergy sex abuse crisis and the Dallas Charter, in which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops implemented standardized child protection protocols. Only 24 of the 258 cases occurred in the 2000s; 10 occurred in the 2010s.
The report reflects a fuller list of older allegations than previously reported, especially #MeToo-style cases involving the sexual abuse of adult men by religious authority figures.
More than 9 out of every 10 cases in the report involved a post-pubescent male at the time of the alleged incidents.
The additional data reflects increased scrutiny into Catholic clerical abuse of non-consenting adults during the past two years.
After credible allegations emerged in 2019 that ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick abused minors and adult seminarians, U.S. Catholic leaders began releasing records on adult allegations as well as information about previously unpublicized child abuse cases settled out of court.
The Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst with Religion News Service, told The Washington Times that much of the new information in the Nebraska report comes from the Lincoln diocese, where then-Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz was the only U.S. prelate who refused to participate in annual sexual misconduct reviews after the Dallas Charter.
“The cases in the Lincoln diocese show that a bishop who wants to deal with this on his own needs his head examined,” Father Reese said Tuesday.
“Unless it was a canonical norm from Rome, Bishop Bruskewitz wasn’t going to follow it,” he added.
In March 2019, Pope Francis published an apostolic letter “on the protection of minors and vulnerable persons,” implementing new policies for holding accountable bishops accused of sexual misconduct or cover-up.
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said the Nebraska report appears to target the Catholic church in a way that overlooks the church‘s progress on abuse claims.
All but one of the phone calls to DOJ investigators concerned the Catholic Church, he noted, suggesting priests had been “singled out” in a report on “mostly old cases.”
“Moreover, given the undeniable progress that the Catholic Church has made, it makes it even more indefensible to focus exclusively on it,” said Mr. Donohue author of the new book “The Truth About Clergy Sex Abuse.”
But the advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has criticized Catholic leaders for failing to keep their promises of reform.
“Tell the truth about how this all happened, stop protecting the Church‘s reputation, and instead start saving children and supporting victims in their path towards healing and justice,” the group told Nebraska’s bishops in a statement on the attorney general’s report.
“But most importantly, practice what is preached from your pulpits,” SNAP added.
Nebraska’s Department of Justice launched the investigation in August 2018, when it contacted the state’s three Catholic bishops in response to several allegations from the Lincoln diocese.
One year later, the state sent subpoenas to 426 Catholic schools and parishes to gain access to their records.