California's Attorney General Is Gathering Information From The Public On Catholic Church Sex Abuse

Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral, the flagship church of the San Bernardino Catholic Diocese. (Wikipedia Commons)

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced today that his office is gathering information from the public about sexual misconduct by Catholic clergy. On Twitter Wednesday afternoon, Becerra implored Californians who believe they've been victims to submit complaints.

The announcement comes as survivors and their advocates call for Becerra to launch a statewide grand jury investigation like the one concluded this summer in Pennsylvania resulting in an explosive report on church abuse.

Attorney Mike Finnegan, who represents California clergy abuse victims, says the AG's announcement is a significant step.

"Because it takes it from the realm of not knowing whether they're doing something to concretely that they're at the very least looking into this and taking it much more seriously than in the past," said Finnegan.

The attorney general's office refused to either confirm or deny whether it is investigating the Catholic Church or plans to do so. But in a statement, it said information from the public is necessary "in light of the news surrounding the sexual abuse of children by members of clergy or religious organizations across the country."

Becerra encouraged Californians to fill out online complaint forms if they have any information about sexual misconduct by clergy members. They can also send his office an email at ClergyAbuse@doj.ca.gov.

The U.S. Department of Justice launched its own investigation into clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania following the grand jury report in that state.

Since the clergy sex abuse scandal broke in Boston in 2002, attorneys general in just four states have forced the Catholic Church to turn over their records. Facing public pressure, more than a dozen states around the country have recently announced investigations of their own.

In a September news conference, Becerra confirmed to reporters that clergy sexual abuse was on his radar.

"We are very aware of the allegations, the actions that were taken in Pennsylvania and the professed actions that other states are planning to take," Becerra said. "California is a leader when it comes to just about everything you can think of. We'll take a backseat to no one when it comes to protecting our people."

KPCC/LAist reported last month on the personal cost to the victims, including two brothers from an immigrant family abused by a predatory priest moved from one location to another by the church.

Abuse survivors sued California's bishops last month for civil conspiracy and public nuisance, alleging Catholic officials across the state covered up criminal activity by keeping known and suspected abusers in ministry, moving them around and failing to report abuse to police.

Becerra's Wednesday announcement comes one day after he was re-elected to his position.

Finnegan says Becerra's request for information is welcome news for survivors.

"What survivors of abuse want is for the truth to come out," Finnegan said. "The AG's office has the power to get that out there. If that leads to some of the top officials and perpetrators being put behind bars, that's great."

Aaron Schrank covers religion, international affairs and the Southern California diaspora under a grant from the Luce Foundation.


Hey, thanks. You read the entire story. And we love you for that. Here at LAist, our goal is to cover the stories that matter to you, not advertisers. We don't have paywalls, but we do have payments (aka bills). So if you love independent, local journalism, join us. Let's make the world a better place, together. Donate now.