Months before His Senate Race, Missouri Attorney General Slammed for ‘sham’ Clergy-abuse Probe
By Pilar Melendez
September 5, 2018
For Chris Wimmer, the locker rooms at Chaminade College Preparatory School in St Louis were “hell” from ages 11 to 18.
Once active in sports, Wimmer says, he witnessed fondling, touching, and groping hundreds of times in the showers and locker rooms allegedly at the hands of the athletic clergy director at the time.
Wimmer claims he was abused “countless times” by two clergy members at the Catholic high school from 1970 to 1977. He believes the clergy members would just use him “to masturbate” by wrapping their body around his teenage body.
“I remember one time the priest pretended he was giving me physical care and got me naked and into a whirlpool,” Wimmer told The Daily Beast in an interview. “After he had been very thorough of rubbing me, he went around the corner to finish himself.”
The 59-year-old is just one of the hundreds to recently come forward about their harrowing experiencing in Missouri, their outspokenness prompting the state attorney general’s office to take action.
“I know a hundred kids from my class who saw what I saw and haven’t said a thing. People just don’t talk about this,” said Wimmer.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced last month his office will conduct an independent review of the Archdiocese of St. Louis amid mounting allegations of sexual abuse by its clergy members. “Victims of sexual abuse of any kind deserve to have their voices heard and Missourians deserve to know if this misconduct has occurred in their communities,” Hawley said in a statement.
But survivors, their lawyers, and sexual abuse advocates claim this investigation is nothing more than “a sham,” due to the lack subpoena power and reliance on the cooperation of church leaders.
“We are all for investigations but they have to have three components. One, they have to be independent. Two, they have to have subpoena power. And third, they have to compel testimony under oath,” Tim Lennon, a survivor and president of Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests (SNAP), told The Daily Beast.
He continued: “I appreciate the interest in investigating but without the three components, it’s a white-wash, it’s a sham.”
Lennon, who was allegedly molested by a priest when he was thirteen, spearheads the independent organization of survivors and supporters that push for legislation that protections children and survivors from institutional abuse. Currently, SNAP has 25,000 members in over 60 cities worldwide.
Wimmer reiterated the SNAP president’s statement, adding that without accountability, this investigation might even be harmful.
“This investigation is more than pointless, it’s damaging to the wellbeing and legislative process of survivors,” said Wimmer.
In 2015, Wimmer filed a lawsuit against his former high school and its clergy members in St. Louis County Circuit Court, but his case was dismissed because the statute of limitations had passed.
Hawley’s announcement makes Missouri the first state to announce an investigation following Pennsylvania’s grand jury report last month that identified more than 300 “predatory priests” and more than a thousand victims over seven decades.
Unlike Pennsylvania's grand jury, however, Hawley does not have any jurisdiction to prosecute or investigate any of these allegations. In order to investigate the church, Hawley needs to ask the church for help.
Missouri state law dictates that only local prosecutors can issue subpoenas or convene grand juries.
“That’s exactly backward. You don’t let the perpetrator decide the investigation,” Nicole Gorovsky, an attorney representing victims in Missouri, told The Daily Beast.
Gorovsky, a former federal prosecutor, began taking on clergy abuse cases in 2011 and has seen various forms of intimidation and manipulation tactics by the church to silence their victims. She wrote letters to both the attorney general and the archbishop after the investigation was announced last month to demand a different plan.
“There are almost 1500 victims of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of priests within the Archdiocese of St. Louis for one 20-year period. Those people deserve solace,” said Gorosky in her letter to Hawley. “They deserve justice. You are supposed to be a justice-seeker.”
The Missouri attorney general’s office defended the investigation of sex abuse within the Catholic Church, despite its lack of subpoena power and reliance on the cooperation of church leaders.
“Unlike Pennsylvania, the Missouri Attorney General lacks power to subpoena or prosecute in this area. But the Attorney General refuses to sit idly by. Instead, this Office has found a way to conduct a probing and thorough investigation,” Mary Compton, director of communications for the attorney general’s office, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “We will hold the dioceses accountable to follow through on their promise to provide everything we could obtain if we had subpoena power.
She continued: “We look forward to the full cooperation of all dioceses in the state. If we do not receive that cooperation, we will certainly make that fact known. We also look forward to meeting with victims and victim groups, and we encourage anyone with information to report to come forward to our office.”
Rebecca Randles, an attorney who has been representing clergy abuse survivors since 1992, is still skeptical about how Hawley can conduct a thorough investigation while relying on church leaders for information.
"Without the power of subpoena, all he is doing is asking the dioses to open up their files and they get to pick and choose which files they are going to open and so far I have seen some limiting language" Randles told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
The archdiocese of St. Louis has granted the attorney general’s office permission to legally conduct an independent review for “public transparency and accountability.”
“I now invite you to review our files for the purpose of making an independent determination of our handling of allegations of clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Louis,” Rev. Robert J Carlson, archbishop of St. Louis, said in a letter to Hawley last month.
Randles points out that that while the archdiocese in St. Louis says they are being forthcoming with information, their language is limiting.
“The archdiocese of St. Louis [said] ‘we will provide him with any file he wants to see.’ Well in order to know that you have to know what files you want to see,” Randles said.
Wimmer believes the only way this investigation would be effective is if the attorney general heard directly from the survivors themselves.
“There should be an intiviation to survivors to come forward and tell their stories and then the investigation should go from there,” said Wimmer. “If the survivors were to speak, the attorney general would know where to look.”
Hawley, who is running for U.S. Senate as a Republican this November, maintains the legitimacy and effectiveness of the investigation.
His office says the investigation is ongoing and efficient.
“We will seek from the dioceses all evidence we would if we had subpoena power. The dioceses have pledged to make all records available and cooperate fully,” Compton, Hawley’s spokeswoman, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “We will hold them to that standard.”
But Chris Wimmer isn’t too optimistic, saying Hawley’s investigation is possibility an opportunity for him to speak to his base.
“He is very conservative running in a very conservative state and this is his base. These Catholic conservatives seems to be his people,” said Wimmer. “But this investigation is a sham. If you were abusing children, would you be writing it all down?”