Planned bill to enable statewide investigations

Record Staff Report

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear and three state representatives from Jefferson County announced plans Sept. 25 for legislation that would allow Kentucky’s dioceses to be investigated statewide by a grand jury, similar to an investigation of six Pennsylvania dioceses completed recently.

Beshear, who announced the plans during a live-streamed press conference, said a bill that will be pre-filed for the 2019 General Assembly, would enable his office to investigate the Catholic Church’s handling of sexual abuse cases and other cases that cross multiple jurisdictions. Currently, state law doesn’t provide for such investigations, he said.

The bill would allow the attorney general to petition the Kentucky Supreme Court for a grand jury that could conduct an investigation in multiple counties or statewide, he said. A circuit court judge would supervise the investigation and any cases would be prosecuted at the local level, he said.

While the legislation can be used to investigate the church, Beshear said, “it’s not just about that issue.”

“This step is necessary for far-reaching, deeply-rooted and sometimes institutional child abuse, human trafficking, public corruption and drug trafficking activity,” said Beshear. “The legislation provides us another tool to fight chronic criminal activity that occurs across the commonwealth.”

Rep. Jeffery Donohue said he will sponsor the bill and Rep. Jim Wayne, who is retiring after 27 years in office, said he offers his support as a lawmaker and a Catholic.

“What we have in the Catholic Church right now is a major crisis of trust,” said Rep. Wayne. “We cannot trust our leaders and I think this is admitted by our leaders. What this legislation would do, would give us the opportunity as a society to make sure that everything is known about the history of sex abuse in the Catholic Church.”

He noted that some bishops have acknowledged this “crisis of trust,” including Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz who wrote a column in The Record Sept. 6 titled “Renewal amid crisis of trust.”

“To rebuild the trust, we need to entrust … the attorney general to go into all the files and pull them out and find out what the history has been and whether anything is being covered up now,” Rep. Wayne said.

Cooperation “will go a long way to helping them restore confidence in their people regarding their leadership,” he said.

The Archdiocese of Louisville said in a brief statement Sept. 25, “We have always found it important to cooperate with the civil authorities in our response to matters of sexual abuse, and we will continue to do so.

“It is our practice not to comment further on potential legislation before draft legislation is completed and available for study,” the archdiocese’s statement said.

The Pennsylvania grand jury published a 1,400-page report Aug. 14 describing the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and a pattern of cover-ups by bishops in six of the state’s dioceses. The investigation examined files dating back 70 years. The report identified 1,000 victims and more than 300 priests who abused them.

The Archdiocese of Louisville turned its files over to the commonwealth’s attorney in 2002 and 2003, when more than 250 lawsuits were filed against the archdiocese related to sexual abuse by clergy over the course of five decades. The archdiocese plans to publish a report related to clergy sexual abuse in The Record next month.

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