Why, despite 100s of letters, Texas AG can’t investigate priest abuse


January 30, 2019

By Erin Cargile, Phil Prazan andJody Barr

Hundreds of Texans reached out to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, asking it to investigate Catholic Diocese in Texas after Pennsylvania’s attorney general launched prosecutions into alleged sexual abuse of children.

Paxton’s office’s response: state law doesn’t allow them to investigate.

In an interview with KXAN News, Paxton spokesperson Marc Rylander, says there are constraints on the state office.

“There should be no safer place, not only in Texas, but on earth, than the local church,” Rylander said. “But every state is set up different. Every state has different statues. Some states have the ability to go into an issue where there are reports like these and blow the whole thing up and prosecute and take down. In Texas, the law is set up differently.”

State law doesn’t give the Attorney General primary jurisdiction — also known as original jurisdiction — over these cases. “Primary jurisdiction” is the ability to investigate a local matter alone.

Investigating and prosecuting allegations against priests must begin with local police and district attorneys’ offices, he says. Those agencies must ask the Attorney General to step in to lead or to help on a local crime.

“We have to rely on local district attorneys from the 254 counties in our state to either refer the case to us or ask for our assistance as they investigate and prosecute these cases,” Rylander said.

The law is different in Pennsylvania. There, under title 42, the General Assembly gave the Pennsylvania Attorney General the power to convene a grand jury to investigate organized crime or public corruption involving more than one county in the state. The Pennsylvania Attorney General used that authority to look into the Catholic Diocese.

The Texas Attorney General only has original jurisdiction for allegations of misuse of state property, abuse of office, election law violations and offenses against juveniles in state correctional facilities.

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