Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson discusses the findings of a three-year investigation into sex abuse allegations against clergy in the Catholic Church during a Nov. 4 news conference in Lincoln. GRANT SCHULTE

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Nebraska attorney general releases report on clergy sex abuse

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson held a news conference in Lincoln Nov. 4 and released the final report on his office’s investigation into clergy sex abuse in the state’s three Catholic dioceses.

The 174-page report details the credible cases of reported abuse by clergy and other representatives of Catholic parishes and schools that occurred as far back as the 1930s, with the majority occurring from the 1960s through the 1990s.

The report documented 170 minor or young adult victims in the Omaha archdiocese, who were abused by 43 priests, deacons and lay teachers. The archdiocese has published the names of offenders in its own report to the public beginning in 2019.

Although some were prosecuted and convicted of crimes, Peterson expressed frustration that prosecution of unpunished offenders is not possible due to their deaths or statutes of limitations.

The report faults Church hierarchy for failing to take decisive steps to remove offending priests from active service when reports were received concerning their behaviors or abuse. Often they were simply moved to other parishes.

The report also states: “The vast majority of the sexual abuse cases happened prior to the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, also known as the Dallas Charter. Passed in 2002, the Dallas Charter required all dioceses to take steps to protect children from sexual abuse.

“It is evident the changes mandated by the Dallas Charter have resulted in a marked improvement of the dioceses’ responses to allegations of sexual abuse. In particular, the file contains accounts of admirable support provided to victims of sexual abuse by the dioceses’ Victim’s Assistance Coordinators (VACs).”

The Archdiocese of Omaha adopted the charter in 2003 and established its Victim Outreach and Prevention Office, headed by Director Mary Beth Hanus.

Since that time, the office has provided assistance to victims and implemented safe environment training for children and training and certification of adults who have contact or work with children. The archdiocese also implemented background checks for clergy and staff as well as a code of conduct, and established a Review Board to investigate reports of abuse.

In the wake of the report, Hanus said she felt again a deep sorrow for the people who were traumatized and “that clergy were not the face of Christ to them.”

“But as painful as it (the report) was, it’s always good to bring darkness into the light. Then, I think, healing can begin,” she said.

Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor for the Omaha archdiocese, said the archdiocese’s actions, including a zero tolerance policy concerning inappropriate behavior by clergy and other Church representatives and development of transparent procedures for reporting to law enforcement and investigating accusations of abuse, have made a positive difference.

Annual audits on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have found the archdiocese to be in compliance with the requirements of the charter.

“This builds a strong safety net,” Hanus said, “and shows the care we want to give to our kids and our families.”

 

Statement by Archbishop George J. Lucas, Omaha; Bishop James D. Conley, Lincoln; and Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt, Grand Island:

Today (Nov. 4), Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson reported on the findings of his three-year investigation into criminal misconduct by clergy ministering in Nebraska’s three Catholic dioceses. His report outlines the abusive behavior of a number of priests, deacons, and Catholic laity over a span of many decades. To our knowledge, the Attorney General’s investigation and report concern the Catholic Church in Nebraska only, and not any other religious denomination, youth service organization, or school system. 

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.

This report also points out mistakes made in the way dioceses received, reported and responded to allegations of sexual abuse in the past. We have been committed in recent years to comprehensive measures to protect young people and vulnerable adults, preventing abuse, offering healing for past victims of abuse and fully cooperating with civil authorities in these matters. We have made our own public disclosures of offending clergy.

Anyone who believes that a member of the clergy, church worker, or church volunteer has engaged in inappropriate conduct with a minor should contact law enforcement and the Victim Assistance Coordinator of the diocese where the conduct occurred.

Please join us in praying for healing for victims of abuse, for their families and all in our communities who are touched by the evil of sexual abuse.