Nebraska AG report says dioceses failed to protect children

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AG Peterson releases report of clergy sexual abuse

LINCOLN, Neb. (KCAU) — The Nebraska Attorney General has released a report of child sexual abuse committed by the clergy of the Nebraska dioceses.

The investigation began in August of 2018 when the Nebraska Department of Justice (DOJ) asked the three Nebraska Dioceses for files relating to sexual abuse dating back from January 1, 1978, according to a release from Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson.

The report concluded that there were credible allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct with 258 victims across the three dioceses. Below is a list of the diocese and the number of victims in each.

  • Omaha Diocese – 158 victims
  • Lincoln Diocese – 97 victims
  • Grand Island Diocese – 3 victims

Fifty-seven church officials perpetrated the abuse. The officials were mainly priests, deacons, and Catholic school teachers.

The release states that the most troubling finding in the report is that authorities chose the reputation of the church above the protection of the children, saying there were “numerous occasions when there was an opportunity to bring justice to the victims.”

Read the full report below.

In August of 2018, The release said investigators asked the dioceses for any claims of improper sexual conduct or incidents of child pornography or sexual communication with a minor. All three dioceses submitted the files.

In addition, the Archdiocese of Omaha also released a list of claims made against clergy in November 2018. They found 38 members of the clergy, including 24 diocesan and priests, had substantial allegations of sexual abuse against them since 1978

In addition, the dioceses were also asked what policies or procedures were in place for allegations of sexual misconduct. The AG’s office found that the policies and procedures were not uniform with each dioceses having its own system.

In continuation of the investigation, the DOJ decided they needed more information, so they issued 426 subpoenas to Catholic churches and Catholic schools across the state on February 19, 2019.

The release states that after reviewing files, victims of sexual abuse had agreements of financial settlement with the dioceses The DOJ issued more subpoenas to the liability insurance company representing the dioceses for more information of these settlements. 

The last thing investigators asked for was to review all psychological evaluations of priests who were being investigated for claims of sexual misconduct. The Grand Island and Lincoln Dioceses voluntarily released the data. For a review of evaluations from the Omaha Archdiocese, authorities entered into a protective order signed by the district court.

Overall, the investigation involved the following:

  • A complete examination of the files of over 200 clergy members and diocesan employees, as well as the supplemental material requested in subpoena requests. 
  • An investigation of over 120 calls to the Hotline and Tip Line. The calls came from citizens who reported various types of sexual improprieties committed by clergy members or diocesan employees. Many of the calls came from victims of sexual abuse. Some calls were from parents or siblings who were told about incidents of sexual abuse from the victim. Most of the incidents had never been reported to law enforcement. 
  • A review of reports from newspapers and other media outlets chronicling sexual abuse by clergy members or diocesan employees.  
  • A review of 12 hours of recorded interviews with those reporting sexual abuse.
  • Examination of nearly 30,000 pages of relevant material.

Peterson said in a statement that to protect children, the church, church members, and law enforcement will need to remain vigilant. Read his full statement below.

The bishops of the dioceses responded to Peterson’s report, saying that they apologize for the “pain, betrayal and suffering that never should have been experienced in the Church.” The statement comes from Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, and Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island. They add that in recent years, they have been committed to making comprehensive measures.

Read their full statement below.

Today, 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.  The Attorney General’s investigation and report concerns 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.

Archbishop George J. Lucas, Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt, and Bishop James D. Conley 

If you believe abuse of a child has occurred or a child is at risk, you are required by law to report such information to the law enforcement or child protective services hotline. State law requires any person who suspects a child has been physically or sexually abused or neglected to report it promptly. The Nebraska Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-652-1999

If victims or their families have questions about the Report they may call the Attorney General’s Office at 531-739-8166, where they are able to leave a name and number and calls will be returned.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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