Clergy abuse investigation: Nebraska AG finds 258 victims, abuse by 57 church officials

KETV - ABC 7 [Omaha NE]

November 4, 2021

Attorney General Doug Peterson said the most troubling finding was that, on numerous occasions, those in authority chose to place the reputation of the church above the protection of the children.

A report issued by Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson details decades of abuse at the hands of clergy members.

The AG’s office asked the three Nebraska Dioceses to turn over all files relating to claims of improper sexual conduct, sexual exploitation, child pornography or sexual communication with a minor dating back to Jan. 1, 1978.

“The summaries are replete with accounts of priests using alcohol, offering camping or other types of road trips. Video games, food and various other enticements to isolate and exploit their young victims,” Peterson said.

The AG’s investigation began in August 2018. In February 2019, the Nebraska Department of Justice issued 426 subpoenas to Catholic churches and schools across Nebraska.

Peterson said, in reviewing the files, his office found, in some cases, victims of sexual abuse had received financial settlements from the dioceses.

The investigation turned up credible allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct from 258 victims.

  • Lincoln diocese had 97 victims
  • Omaha diocese had 158 victims
  • Grand Island diocese had 3 victims

The investigation found the abuse was at the hands of 57 church officials comprised mostly of priests, deacons, and Catholic school teachers.

The majority of the victims — 236 — were male. In Omaha, the majority were between the ages of 11 and 13 while in the Lincoln diocese, the majority were in their 20s.

“The nature of the harm caused to these young innocent victims is indescribable. The extent of physical and psychological harm caused by the perpetrators and the failure of the church to safeguard so many victims is gut-wrenching,” Peterson said.

Peterson said the “most troubling find” was that, on numerous occasions, those in authority chose to place the reputation of the church above the protection of the children.

“Instead of identifying investigating turn it over to law enforcement at the outset. What they would do is just move them on to other parishes,” Peterson said.

Peterson called them ‘cover ups’ and he said most occurred in the ’80s and ’90s under prior bishops.

He said under Nebraska’s statute of limitations law, it’s too late to file criminal charges against the alleged perpetrator or the church officials who failed to report them.

“The thing that’s difficult and frustrating for us, is that we’ve not been able to bring our own justice system to bear on those predators. And that’s extremely frustrating,” Peterson said.

“It was crushing. I feel like I haven’t been heard. And I think it’s time to be heard,” the woman said.

To see the full report, click here.

The bishops of the three Dioceses issued a joint statement that included an apology to the victims:

“We acknowledge with sadness that so many innocent minors and young adults were harmed by Catholic clergy and other representatives of the Church. It is clear that the hurt is still felt, even if the abuse was perpetrated many years ago. We apologize to the victims and their families for the pain, betrayal and suffering that never should have been experienced in the Church.”

You can read the bishops’ full statement here.

Nebraska State Sen. Rich Pahls told KETV Newswatch 7 he wants to get rid of the statute of limitations in older child sex assault cases.

In a letter, he noted the state removed the statute of limitations for sexual assault in 2004. However, that does not help victims who were abused seven years before that change.

Any assault committed prior to 1997 can not be charged.

Pahl said he plans to introduce legislation to help victims to get that justice.

If you suspect abuse or neglect, state law requires you to report it. The Nebraska Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-652-1999.

Below is a full press conference of Nebraska Attorney General detailing decades of sexual abuse by clergy members.