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D.C. Attorney General Launches Civil Investigation Into Catholic Archdiocese

Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine speaks during a news conference in 2017.
Jim Watson
AFP/Getty Images
Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine speaks during a news conference in 2017.

Washington, D.C.'s attorney general has opened a civil investigation into the Catholic archdiocese of Washington, days after the church released a list of 31 priests "credibly accused" of sexual abuse.

"The Office of the Attorney General has launched a civil investigation into whether the Archdiocese, a nonprofit institution, the District's Nonprofit Act by potentially covering up allegations of sexual abuse of minors," Attorney General Karl Racine's office said in a clergy abuse complaint form published on its website.

Member station WAMU reports Racine announced the investigation at a regularly scheduled breakfast among D.C.'s local officials.

Racine's investigation makes D.C. the 14th state or districtto investigate the Church for covering up sexual abuse.

"The reason we're using our authority under the not-for-profit and charities section is because we have subpoena authority, and of course not-for-profits cannot be engaged in concealment of illegal [actions]," Racine reportedly said.

Last week, the archdiocese released a list of 31 clergymen who have been "credibly accused" of abusing children over a decades-long period.

The list noted cases as far back as 1948 and as recently as 1996. Eighteen priests named were arrested; 17 are now dead. None of those who are still alive are active clergymen.

The investigation's purpose, Racine reportedly said, is to determine whether there are additional cases besides those the church has already reported.

The archdiocese says it willingly briefed Racine last month on "the extensive efforts" it now takes to prevent and respond to allegations of sexual abuse.

"We had a very productive exchange with the Attorney General and his staff," Kim Viti Fiorentino, Chancellor and General Counsel for the Archdiocese of Washington, said in a news release. "The Archdiocese of Washington remains committed to a collaborative and transparent review process because there is not now, and has not been for decades, any problem of abuse of minors by clergy of the Archdiocese of Washington."

The archdiocese's website says it has reported all allegations of sexual abuse to the authorities since 1986.

The list released last week's list was not the first recent sex abuse scandal in the archdiocese.

An AugustPennsylvania grand jury report detailed a large-scale cover up by Catholic church officials, describing more than 300 "predator priests" and at least 1,000 child victims.

Two of the Washington archdiocese's most prominent leaders, previous archbishops ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, were named in the report.

McCarrick served as archbishop from 2001 to 2006. The report said he allegedly abused two men studying to enter the priesthood more than 50 years ago.

McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals — one of the most prominent leadership positions in the Church — in July.

The 900-page report also named him Wuerl more than 200 times. During his tenure as the bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 through 2006, Wuerl allegedly moved abusive priests from parish to parish and failed to inform those new parishes' of abusive behavior.

Wuerl served as D.C.'s archbishop from 2006 until he resigned earlier this month, days before the list was published.

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