- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2024

Washington state’s attorney general is increasing pressure on the Catholic Church in a child sex abuse investigation he is conducting.

Bob Ferguson said he has asked the King County Superior Court to enforce a subpoena he issued against the Seattle Catholic Archdiocese to obtain church records for the probe.

Mr. Ferguson said the Seattle Archdiocese did not comply with the records request and that Catholic dioceses in Spokane and Yakima are also non-compliant. The legal action in Seattle could be followed by court filings against the other Catholic dioceses, he told a news conference Thursday.

“Through the course of our investigation, the Archdiocese has unfortunately refused to cooperate with our investigation, has refused to provide any of the information to us that we’re requesting that’s not already been made public,” Mr. Ferguson, himself a Catholic, told reporters. “As a result, we’re going to court today to ask the judge to compel the Archdiocese to turn over those documents.”

The attorney general said he wants the “red files” on individual abuse cases, which he said the archdiocese has not provided.

The Seattle Archdiocese said it disagreed with Mr. Ferguson.

“The attorney general’s claim that we have not ‘shared a single document that is not public’ is not how we see it,” it said in a Thursday statement. “In fact, on Monday of this week we offered to submit a series of private deposition documents. The attorney general’s office responded that they are not interested in these private documents.”

Mr. Ferguson told reporters his goal is to determine whether a civil case can be brought against the church.

“The purpose of our investigation is to uncover whether the church has misused charitable trust funds to cover up systemic sexual abuse and shield abuse of priests,” Mr. Ferguson said. “If so, we want to understand the extent of the views. Who those priests are, what the church’s role was in protecting them and keeping them in positions of power and what’s being done now to protect children and ensure that this never happens again.”

Any criminal cases arising from evidence found in church records would have to be prosecuted by local district attorneys since his office does not have the power to prosecute crimes on its own as he cannot use grand juries to conduct investigations he said.

The archdiocese maintained it was cooperating as far as it could.

“In late April 2024, the Attorney General’s Office supplemented the subpoena adding several new requests. Our legal team is cooperating in the process of this statewide investigation, having responded to the subpoena and the associated documents request,” the archdiocese said. “The Archdiocese of Seattle has already turned over some of the requested information.”

The archdiocese said that while it wants to cooperate with the requests, it “must do so in a way that protects the privacy of victims and ensures they are not re-traumatized.”

In a statement read at the news conference, abuse survivor Esther Lucero-Miner said she approved of Mr. Ferguson’s investigation.

“It is long overdue in my opinion and will be an important step in the healing that our church deserves,” she said.

Mr. Ferguson urged the Seattle Archdiocese to provide the requested documents.

“There is still time for the church to do the right thing,” he said. “I can’t say I’m optimistic, but there is still time and I hope whoever’s listening, you know, the leadership of the church, really reflects deeply about this.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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