Many thought last year’s decision by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City to retain a law firm to conduct an independent investigation regarding allegations of abuse by its priests was an effort to cover up a problem. Those critics may be surprised by the report released earlier this month.
The report finds credible accusations dating back to 1960 against 11 priests, and the investigation has not yet concluded. The 77-page report contains allegations of cover-ups orchestrated or acquiesced by church officials. These allegations included the destruction of potentially incriminating evidence and assisting a priest in his relocation and work in another state’s diocese through mischaracterizing of the priest’s past accusations of abusive conduct.
Revelations from the report
While acknowledging the cooperation of the current officials of the archdiocese in the investigation, the report disclosed by former officials were not as cooperative. The report references 37 boxes of church records that were not turned over to the investigating firm until the day prior to the release of its report.
The boxes of records had been in possession of the former legal counsel for the archdiocese. Although the attorneys conducting the investigation made requests over the course of a year to view them, the records were not released to the archdiocese until the report was completed.
Among the cases mentioned in the report is a 2002 allegation of sexual abuse made by a man claiming to have been victimized by a priest as a minor. According to the report, the archdiocese paid the legal fees to enable the priest to file a lawsuit against the victim seeking damages for defamation.
The effect of the pending lawsuit was to discourage the victim from cooperating in the review of the allegation conducted by the archdiocese. The report notes the priest had admitted the allegation of abuse to church officials before money was authorized to fund the defamation lawsuit. The implication being that church officials sought to use the lawsuit to dissuade the victim from moving forward with the accusation, which appears to have worked.
The extent of the problem
The revelations of abuse by priests in a diocese and efforts by church officials to conceal it should not be taken as an Oklahoma City problem. Numerous claims of sexual misconduct by priests have arisen in other parts of the country.
An investigation into allegations of misconduct by priests in Missouri has resulted in criminal charges against 12 individuals. In discussing the results of the investigation, the attorney general explained how evidence revealed how church officials ignored victims and protected priests for decades.
Changes recommended in the handling of complaints
In a letter releasing the investigative report to the public, the Archbishop of Oklahoma City offered an apology and a pledge to do better dealing with the issue of sexual abuse by clergy. Among the recommendations included in the investigative report are the following:
· Use of an independent party to investigate and report on allegations of sexual abuse of minors.
· Improved procedures for maintaining records regarding allegations of abuse committed by church officials.
· Increased transparency to include public disclosure of decisions by church officials pertaining to sexual misconduct allegations by minors.
· Improvement of reporting procedures to be followed by church officials upon becoming aware of sexual abuse allegations involving minors.
A review of the additional records provided to the firm conducting the investigation may result in additional recommendations once that review is completed.
More information about child abuse
Child abuse allegations have severe consequences under the law in Oklahoma. Willfully or maliciously engaging in child abuse or enabling another person to do so is a felony under Oklahoma law punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Learn more about sexual abuse and child abuse by contacting a criminal defense attorney.