Priest Arrest Sends Message to Victims
By Katie Davis
Turn to 10
November 21, 2014
The allegations are graphic.
Children raped and forced to perform sex acts by Rhode Island priests.
Some told no one would believe them if they came forward.
The cases were uncovered in state police files by the NBC 10 I-Team through public records requests over a six-month period.
Despite the disturbing details, investigators say the cases are tough to prosecute.
"Witnesses have died. We can't locate certain witnesses or victims. So it makes it very difficult, time period," Capt. Christopher Dicomitis
Dicomitis said the statute of limitations has run out in most cases, or the accused priest is dead.
But state police say the indictment of the Rev. Barry Meehan on Friday sends a strong message that priests who can be charged, will face justice.
"Absolutely," Dicomitis said.
The I-Team began investigating last year, uncovering dozens of letters sent to state police by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence over a 10-year period.
State police say the diocese first reported Meehan's case to them in December 2012, which means the dates and details match some of the letters we obtained.
But because names, dates and locations are blacked out, it's tough to confirm whether the priest on paper is the same one who was in the courtroom.
Following our investigation last year, state police said at least 15 people came forward to file new reports.
Ann Hagen Webb was one of them.
"I found them very sensitive and understanding and encouraging," Hagen Webb said.
She says she was sexually abused by a West Warwick priest, starting at the age of 5. Although the priest is dead, she felt it was important to tell her story to detectives.
Hagen Webb said she reported the abuse to the diocese in 1994, but she said her case was never sent to state police.
The I-Team talked with other victims who also say their cases never made it to law enforcement.
Hagen Webb says it's another reason victims should go to law enforcement directly.
"I'm encouraging more survivors to come forward and give their statement to the state police," Hagen Webb said.