Victims advocacy group says Washington AG is investigating clergy abuse by Catholic bishops

The Catholic Accountability Project lined up pictures outside the Attorney General’s Office Tuesday of the 151 clergy members in Washington who have so far been convicted of sexual abuse. The organization said they believe the AGO opened an investigation in August 2023 of three other Bishops in the state.

by Shauna Sowersby

The state Attorney General’s Office may have subpoenaed three Catholic bishops in Washington state seeking “abuse-related documents and evidence,” the Catholic Accountability Project said at a news conference Tuesday.

The subpoenas were delivered in late August, according to the group who said they learned of the AGO’s involvement through a “highly credible source.”

“If this is true, (Attorney General) Bob Ferguson has joined 23 other state attorneys general, both Democrats and Republicans, in investigating sexual abuse in faith-based organizations since 2018,” said Tim Law, a Catholic Accountability Project (CAP) founding member.

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The Attorney General’s Office declined to comment or confirm whether or not an investigation has in fact been opened.

“As a longstanding policy, the Attorney General’s Office generally does not comment on ongoing investigations, including confirming or denying their existence,” said Brionna Aho, communications director for the office.

CAP is an advocacy and support group for survivors of clergy sexual assault and aims to hold perpetrators in churches accountable, their website says.

The group was told subpoenas were sent to bishops in Yakima, Spokane and Seattle, Law said. He said the investigation is occurring thanks to an organization called Heal Our Church that brought evidence forward to the AGO a few years ago.

Law said the accusations against some of the bishops date back as far as the 1960s.

Survivors of clergy abuse spoke at the news conference.

“The only way to get large organizations like this to change their policies to stop enabling abusers is through incentives,” said Marino Hardin, a former Jehovah’s Witness and abuse survivor. “If they face accountability from their victims and from society, they can change those policies.”

Advocates are also urging other victims, whistleblowers and concerned residents to contact the AGO.

“If you care about justice you need to know that it’s the church’s job to forgive — it’s the Attorney General’s job to ensure justice for our children,” Sharon Hurling said.

Members of CAP told reporters that the AGO and the state are the “only hope” because the Catholic church does not police itself.

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