Maryland probe finds 158 abusive priests, over 600 victims

— In court filing, attorney general’s office said there are “almost certainly hundreds more” and that church leaders failed to report many allegations or remove abusers

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh

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A nearly four-year investigation of the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore tallied more than 600 young victims of clergy sexual abuse over 80 years, a court filing by the Maryland attorney general said Thursday. The probe, the second in the country by a state prosecutor, after Pennsylvania’s, seeks to bring accountability and detail to cases long covered up or shrouded by statutes of limitation.

The filing by Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) comes in the 20th anniversary year of an investigative series by the Boston Globe that dug into the Catholic sexual abuse scandal in the United States. Major reforms and multibillion-dollar legal settlements have reduced the number of accusations over the decades, but advocates in and out of the church say that full restitution has never come and such chronicles are important.

“Now is the time for reckoning,” said the 35-page filing in Baltimore City Circuit Court that asks a judge to approve the release of the full 456-page report. Because the report includes information from grand jury testimony, a judge’s approval is required. “Publicly airing the transgressions of the Church is critical to holding people and institutions accountable and improving the way sexual abuse allegations are handled going forward,” the attorney general argued in the filing.

The filing says the report identifies victims from preschool to young adulthood. A spokesperson for Frosh said they reached to age 18.

It was not immediately clear Thursday how many of the priests and victims, if any, may have been newly uncovered by the report.

The filing says the report identifies 115 priests who have already been prosecuted or identified by the church as “credibly accused,” and that it includes an additional 43 priests “accused of sexual abuse but not identified publicly by the Archdiocese.” That is 158 priests.

The archdiocese lists 152 priests on its website as credibly accused.

Many dioceses have lists of credibly accused priests, and their systems for organizing the lists are different. They can include priests ordained in a diocese, or priests serving in a diocese when alleged abuses took place, or priests who happened to be in that diocese when abuse took place.

Christian Kendzierski, a spokesman for the archdiocese, wrote to The Washington Post that he has “no clarification” of what the filing meant by 43 new names. Raquel Coombs, Frosh’s spokeswoman, said she couldn’t comment beyond what was in the filing. The filing says that of the 43 priests that have not been publicly identified or prosecuted, 30 have died.

“The investigation also revealed that the Archdiocese failed to report many allegations of sexual abuse, conduct adequate investigations of alleged abuse, remove the abusers from the ministry or restrict their access to children. Instead, it went to great lengths to keep the abuse secret,” the filing says. One parish had 11 abusers over 40 years.

Earlier Thursday, a spokesman for the archdiocese said it has “fully cooperated” since Frosh began the investigation in January 2019, including providing more than 100,000 papers.

“The Archdiocese recognizes that the release of a report on child sexual abuse over many decades would undoubtedly be a source of renewed pain for survivors of abuse and their loved ones, as well as for faithful of the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese continues to offer its profound apologies to all who were harmed by a minister of the Church and assure them of our heartfelt prayers for their continued healing. The Archdiocese remains committed to pastoral outreach to those who have been harmed as well as to protect children in the future,” wrote Kendzierski in an email. “Any request the AG made of the Archdiocese, the Archdiocese has cooperated with and will continue to cooperate.”

David Lorenz, Maryland leader of SNAP, an organization that advocates for church abuse victims, said he was struggling to digest the scope of abuse and called the report “disturbing.”

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” he said, “and I just wish I could reach out to each of [the victims] and say: ‘It’s okay, it’s not your fault. Please seek help. There are people out there helping, who want to help, who will believe you, who won’t ridicule you, who won’t deny what happened to you. No matter how bad you think it is, it was never your fault.’ ”

Lorenz added that, despite his outrage, he doesn’t expect this report to land with the same effect that previous disclosures did, partly because people have been desensitized. “Nobody wants to look at this, it’s a horrible thing to look at,” he said. “I get that, but you’re not going to solve the problem until you look at it.”

Terry McKiernan, president of the watchdog and research group, said that because the investigation is based on hundreds of thousands of pages of subpoenaed documents, the attorney general’s report has the potential to reopen a nationwide push for new laws and public accountability on how the church handled problem priests.

“It becomes a lot harder to ignore these issues when you have a 500-page report on how bad things are on your desk,” McKiernan said. “They’re going to have knowledge about failures in the archdiocese and management that we don’t know anything about yet,” he said of investigators. “The fact that they have uncovered … 11 accused priests over the years that worked in a single parish, that is shocking, and it’s the sort of thing we see when we approach full accountability at an archdiocese.”

A Pennsylvania grand jury made worldwide news in 2018 when it issued an 800-page report — a first of its kind — that led to arrests of priests in Michigan, protests in Maryland, an early retirement for a Washington archbishop and new policies from New York to the Vatican.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia passed laws extending or eliminating their statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse or allowing previous victims to sue, Marci Hamilton, who tracks legislation at the Philadelphia-based nonprofit Child USA, told The Post in 2019.<

Even before its release, the report spurred one Maryland lawmaker, Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles County), to draft legislation to help victims. Wilson had tried and failed for years to abolish the statute of limitations for abuse victims to file civil lawsuits against institutions that harbored their abusers. (There is no statute of limitations on criminal prosecutions, but Maryland limits how long victims abused as children have to file civil lawsuits.) In doing so, he and other victims of child sex abuse recounted their stories in testimony, only to see the legislation fail in the Maryland Senate after passing the House of Delegates.

He took a break from advocating for the bill last year. Then on Tuesday, he pre-filed legislation that would abolish time limits on civil suits as well as create a two-year window for victims previously barred from bringing such suits to take legal action.

“I didn’t plan on doing it again anytime soon,” Wilson said. “I knew the report was coming. The advocates thought it would be damning.”


An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the Maryland attorney general identified 157 priests who allegedly committed sexual abuse. The number is 158. The article has been updated.

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