The Catholic archdiocese in Baltimore has delivered over 50,000 internal files to Maryland's top law enforcement official amid an investigation into child sex abuse and are in the process of handing over more, church leaders announced Tuesday.
Archbishop William Lori described the clergy sex abuse scourge that's been rocking the church as a "genuine crisis" and said Baltimore's archdiocese is "working very hard to cooperate" with Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh's investigation. Lori asserted that any credible allegations have long been sent to the attorney general's office so their hope is the documents "will be helpful in the process of being transparent and forthright about all of this."
"For quite some time, certainly going back to 2002 if not before, every time we've had a credible accusation we have sent that not only to local law enforcement but also to the attorney general's office. So there was already a lot on file from us," Lori said at a Tuesday gathering for reporters at the archdiocese's headquarters, situated across from the first Roman Catholic cathedral built in the United States.
Bishop Adam Parker, the archdiocese's chief of operations, told reporters that they are preparing and delivering decades-old church files to the attorney general's office on a rolling basis. He said there haven't been any recent allegations within the archdiocese.
"There are specific files that they have asked to see, and our internal team is in the process of gathering them," said Parker, who described the work as a "very significant undertaking" for the archdiocese.
The Tuesday press gathering at the archdiocese comes days after Frosh announced a phone hotline for victims to report child sex abuse associated with a place of worship or school. Unlike attorneys general in several states who have announced probes into clergy sex abuse, Frosh's office will only say it doesn't confirm or deny the existence of any investigation.
Also Tuesday, Lori announced that Baltimore's archdiocese has launched a "third-party system" for reporting allegations against bishops, the latest step to address the abuse crisis.
At their national conference in Baltimore last year, American bishops agreed to wait until after a Vatican-convened global meeting on sex abuse in February to consider establishing a special commission to review complaints against the bishops. They delayed voting on the measure at the Vatican's request.
But Lori said he and his leadership team didn't want to wait any longer to embrace this step with a system dubbed "Ethics Point," which will hold bishops accountable to the same standards priests and others have faced since 2002.
"We said to ourselves: Why can't we do this locally?" said Lori, who last year was appointed by the Vatican to take over West Virginia's diocese following the resignation of Bishop Michael Bransfield amid allegations he sexually harassed adults.
According to Lori, any complaint against a bishop will now be routed to the archdiocese's Independent Review Board, a panel he says is led by two retired judges. The board would then report any allegations deemed credible to Maryland authorities and Pope Francis' envoy in the United States.
Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, which has tracked abuse for more than a decade, asserted that the archdiocese's review board is not in any sense a "third party," stating that Catholic citizens should be skeptical that true bishop accountability could ever be delivered by such a panel.
He also said Lori's history as a church authority did not bode well for bishop accountability in Baltimore. While acting as Bridgeport's bishop, Lori fought to prevent abuse documents from becoming public, taking the fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he lost the legal battle, McKeirnan said.
"The Maryland attorney would be well advised to seize the archdiocese's abuse records, and not depend on Archbishop Lori to provide them," McKeirnan said Tuesday.
Abuse scandals have roiled the Roman Catholic Church worldwide for decades, but there were major developments last year in the U.S. In July, Pope Francis removed U.S. church leader Theodore McCarrick as a cardinal after church investigators said an allegation that he groped a teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible. Subsequently, several former seminarians and priests reported that they too had been abused or harassed by McCarrick as adults, triggering debate over who might have known and covered up McCarrick's misconduct.
And in August, a grand jury report in Pennsylvania detailed decades of abuse and cover-up in six dioceses, alleging that more than 1,000 children had been abused over the years by about 300 priests. Since then, attorneys general in other states have launched investigations.