N.O. area DAs say no new clergy sex abuse reported, but most evade questions on widespread probe

By Robert Rhoden | Times-Picayune
September 21, 2018

The Rev. Kris Stubna walks to the sanctuary after Mass to celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh on Aug. 15, 2018. The Pittsburgh Diocese was rocked a day earlier by a grand jury report on sexual abuse by priests.
Photo by Jeff Swensen

Several New Orleans area district attorneys say they have received no new cases of clergy sex abuse in the weeks since a Pennsylvania report named more than 300 priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children, reigniting the Catholic Church's crisis over clergy abuse.

But most district attorneys in the area did not respond to questions on whether they are considering launching a widespread probe of clergy abuse and possible cover up by church officials in their respective jurisdictions, like investigations started in other parts of the country. 

The top prosecutors in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes said they've received no new complaints of abuse but would thoroughly investigate any allegations brought before their offices. The Plaquemines Parish DA's Office said only that it has not received any allegations or complaints of clergy abuse in 2018. | The Times-Picayune last week asked DAs in all New Orleans metro parishes a series of questions regarding clergy abuse in light of the Pennsylvania report, which has prompted at least nine other states to launch broad investigations into sex abuse allegations and possible church coverups.

District attorneys in St. Bernard, St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes did not respond to the questions. 

Louisiana is not among the states launching widespread investigations. Attorney General Jeff Landry said earlier this month his office doesn't have authority to begin such a probe, saying abuse cases are handled by local district attorneys, who can refer them to the attorney general. Gov. John Bel Edwards, who oversees State Police, said this week the state plans to continue to handle clergy abuse complaints as it has done in the past -- on a case-by-case basis. | The Times-Picayune asked district attorneys whether they were considering broad investigations, their opinions on such probes and whether they see them as legitimate functions of their offices.

Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, through a spokesman, said, "Our office does not have the resources to undertake such an extensive investigation. This would be a function solely for police."

Prosecutors in Jefferson, St. Tammany and Plaquemines responded with comments that largely didn't answer the questions about a widespread probe.

Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick's office said they have no pending cases of clergy child abuse. "Should any case be referred to us by our law enforcement partners, our Child Abuse Unit would exhaustively review it for prosecution," the statement said.

On the North Shore, District Attorney Warren Montgomery said he is unaware of any clergy-related investigations or charges. "However, if any law enforcement authority refers a matter of this nature to my office for prosecution, I will review the matter and vigorously prosecute it if the evidence warrants it," he said.

Plaquemines Parish District Attorney Charles Ballay's office said it has not received allegations or complaints of clergy abuse this year and has had no communication with Landry's office about clergy abuse cases.

E. Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, said the prosecutors have not met as a group since the Pennsylvania report came out.

"We have not had a meeting since all of this really blew up," Adams said. "We haven't had an opportunity to get together to discuss it."

It's unclear how many people in metro New Orleans have been victims of clergy abuse, and how many priests were involved. In an interview Thursday, Archbishop Gregory Aymond said there have been no credible reports of clergy abuse in the Archdiocese of New Orleans in more than a decade. 

Aymond also said he and other Louisiana bishops are discussing whether to release names of clergy against whom credible accusations of abuse have been made. He did not indicate how many clergy members that includes. However, Aymond said releasing names of clergy accused decades ago is "riddled with problems" and "messy," particularly in cases where the abuser is deceased.



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