With wider Catholic Church abuse probe, Maryland attorney general seeks to add staff

Newsbreak [Mountain View, CA]

July 21, 2023

By Cassidy Jensen, Baltimore Sun

Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown is asking the state spending board for approval to create four positions to beef up his office’s investigations into sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

Brown wrote in his request to the Maryland Board of Public Works that his office has seen a significant increase in tips regarding instances of sexual abuse since it released in April its report detailing decades of abuse and torture of children in the Archdiocese of Baltimore . The board , which is comprised of the governor, comptroller and state treasurer, approves major state expenditures.

The proposed positions in the office’s Criminal Investigation Division would “support the investigations of allegations related to the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and others” affiliated with the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and the Diocese of Wilmington in Delaware, in addition to “processing and investigating any new allegations” related to the Baltimore archdiocese, according to an agenda the board published Friday for its Aug. 2 meeting.

Brown’s request would add two assistant attorney general positions and two administrator positions, costing about $560,000, while eliminating five other positions.

“These are five vacant contractual positions, the duties of which had already been assigned elsewhere,” Jennifer Donelan, a spokesperson for the attorney’s general office, said Friday night.

The state’s Department of Budget and Management, responsible for crafting the state’s annual budget and filling employee vacancies, has confirmed money is available for the positions, according to the attorney general’s request.

“That’s great. That’s wonderful news,” said David Lorenz, director of the Maryland chapter of SNAP, or the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, when informed of the request. “I’ve been a little concerned that the investigations may have dragged to a halt because of all the hype around [the Archdiocese of] Baltimore. But we have three dioceses to investigate. This is a very good sign.”

The Baltimore archdiocese covers the city and nine counties in Central and Western Maryland. A portion of the Washington archdiocese includes the Maryland suburbs of the District of Columbia and Southern Maryland, while the Wilmington diocese includes Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

The attorney general’s investigation of the Baltimore archdiocese, which started under former Attorney General Brian Frosh, took four years and produced a nearly 500-page report. One criminal indictment resulted, but a Baltimore County judge acquitted Neil Adleberg, a 75-year-old former high school wrestling coach accused of sexually abusing a student-athlete, in June in that case.

The report identified 156 clergy and staff accused of sexually abusing children, with 46 who were not previously listed as credibly accused by the Baltimore archdiocese. The Baltimore Sun confirmed and published the names of 10 alleged abusers whose names were redacted from the public version of the report, and found that of 36 others, most had died . The archdiocese has since added 42 names to its public list of those accused of abuse.

When the report became public, Brown said his office had also issued subpoenas to the Washington archdiocese and the Wilmington diocese.

“Since the release of that report, we have had a substantial uptick in the number of calls and emails that have come into our office through the hotline we set up at the start of that investigation four years ago,” Brown’s request to the state board said.

Frosh apologized in April to survivors for how long the investigation took to complete, saying the process was delayed by a lack of personnel and resources. In May, the attorney general’s office denied a Maryland Public Information Act request by The Sun for all funding or budget requests from the attorney general to the governor from fiscal year 2019 through fiscal year 2024 .

One survivor advocate has said that the 21 abuse investigations he has studied have been so varied in approach it can be tricky to compare them meaningfully, but the more resources investigators have at their disposal, the better the results. Terry McKiernan is president of BishopAccountability.org , a research center that focuses on abuse by Catholic clerics.

McKiernan was impressed in May when the Illinois attorney general released a report on his staff’s investigation of five years. The document was 130 pages longer than Maryland’s, named three times as many abusive priests and other church employees, and covered all six dioceses in the state, whereas the Maryland report focused solely on Baltimore.

The Illinois probe also generated 30 pages of recommendations for action, as opposed to Maryland’s two, and in McKiernan’s view, Illinois’ report did a better job of weaving in victims’ perspectives, as well as those of parishioners and church leaders. That was no coincidence, he said, as Illinois’ team boasted 30 investigators, while Maryland had only provided a handful.

”Manpower, focus and expertise,” made the difference between the two reports, he said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Hannah Gaskill and Jonathan M. Pitts contributed to this article.