Bay Area Politicians Call for Statewide Probe of Catholic Church
By Matthias Gafni
Bay Area News Group via Mercury News
September 18, 2018
|Vatican Media/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images This handout photo taken on September 13, 2018 and released by the Vatican Media, shows Pope Francis (L) talking with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston (2ndL), who leads the US Conference of Bishops, Cardinal Sean O’Malley (2ndR) of Boston, who advises the pope on sex abuse issues, Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Horacio Gomez (L), deputy president of US Conference of Bishops, and Monsignor Brian Bransfield (R) of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, general secretary of US Conference of Bishops, prior to a private audience at the Vatican on September 13, 2018. – Pope Francis meets with US bishops and cardinals on on September 13, 2018, to discuss the Vatican’s response to a new wave of devastating claims of sexual abuse by clergy. The US Catholic Church has been shaken by the publication of a report on sexual abuse by clergy in Pennsylvania and by the resignation in July of US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. (Photo by Handout / VATICAN MEDIA / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO / VATICAN MEDIA” – NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTSHANDOUT/AFP/Getty Images|
Four Bay Area state legislators and an East Bay congressman are calling for the state’s top attorney to launch an investigation into Catholic Church priest abuse, similar to the groundbreaking Pennsylvania grand jury report released last month that has thrust the scandal back into international headlines.
With California Attorney General Xavier Becerra following his longstanding policy of not confirming or denying an ongoing investigation by his office, it’s entirely possible a probe has already begun, similar to those recently announced in at least eight other states. But U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, who was raised in the Catholic Church and attended Catholic schools through college, wanted to offer his support to priest abuse victims’ advocates who protested in Sacramento on Monday asking for their own grand jury report.
“I think the truth needs to be told and the sooner the better,” DeSaulnier said. “The Catholic Church needs to be forthright on what happened over the years.”
DeSaulnier, who sits on the Congressional Oversight committee, said he’s thought about having a possible hearing on the topic, but said state attorney generals would be a better avenue with more resources. Such an in-depth probe would not only provide closure and solace to victims, but innocent priests would also be removed from the ongoing cloud, he said.
Last month, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a scathing report on six dioceses in that state, finding at least 300 priest offenders and more than 1,000 victims. Called the most thorough report yet of the church’s abuse problem and cover-up, the probe has launched similar efforts across the country.
Leaders of SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, hand delivered a letter to Becerra’s office on Monday asking him to launch an investigation and estimating that previously reported abuser and victim numbers in California were seriously undercounted.
“SNAP believes that the only way to gain an unbiased, complete understanding of the Catholic priest sex abuse problem in the state of California is for your office to undertake a civil, subpoena empowered investigation of all Catholic dioceses in California,” three SNAP leaders wrote.
Last week, the San Jose diocese announced it would conduct an independent investigation into clergy sexual abuse and name priests credibly accused of abusing children. But Dan McNevin, a longtime SNAP leader in the Bay Area who was abused by a priest in Fremont, said the church can’t properly investigate itself.
“We can’t trust the bishops to be forthcoming if they do their own, as San Jose is offering — they are conflicted,” he said. “We need a true, unbiased deep dive into those files and his diocese’s actions over the time since the diocese founding in 1981.”
Becerra and his office have kept mostly quiet on the issue, but earlier this month, the attorney general was asked at a news conference about the Pennsylvania grand jury report and if he’d launch a similar effort here.
“We in California don’t publicly discuss any investigations we may be undertaking,” he said. “So I can’t answer the question directly other than to say we are very aware of the allegations, the actions that were taken in Pennsylvania and the professed actions that other states are planning to take.”
State Sen. Nancy Skinner, who attended Catholic schools through 8th grade, supports a new probe. She said the state has not learned the full scope of the abuse problem, only getting snippets through lawsuits and criminal cases.
“We don’t know if abuse in California was to the extent it was in Pennsylvania … but certainly with the history of cover up by the church, it’s certainly appropriate to have our attorney general look into it,” said Skinner, who also supports increasing the statute of limitations on abuse as victims often suppress the memories until adulthood.
One notable Catholic elected official — Governor Jerry Brown — has not weighed in on the call for a state probe. His office referred questions to the attorney general’s office.
Meanwhile, other Bay Area elected officials also lent support to a grand jury report.
“Given the revelations of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, a similar investigation in California certainly merits consideration,” State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, said in a statement.
“I support investigating this matter fully and going where the facts lead. If it’s determined that the standard is met and further action is warranted, then I believe justice must be carried out and accountability ensured,” Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, said in a statement.
Assemblymember Mark Stone, D-Monterey Bay, said in a statement that he supports increasing the statute of limitations for victims of this type of abuse.
“It’s my understanding that the Attorney General’s office does not let the public know when they are launching an investigation, but I am supportive of an investigation of previously unknown or unprosecuted abuse,” he said.