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California AG Launches Sex Abuse Audit of Catholic Dioceses

Attorney General Xavier Becerra sent a letter to all 12 dioceses on Thursday requesting that church officials retain documents relevant to allegations of clergy sex abuse and mandatory reporting.

Catholic church
A Catholic church in San Francisco.
By Gwendolyn Wu

The California attorney general is auditing the state's Catholic dioceses' mandatory reporting policies on sex abuse, officials said Friday.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra sent a letter to all 12 dioceses on Thursday requesting that church officials retain documents relevant to allegations of clergy sex abuse and mandatory reporting, said Kevin Eckery, a California Catholic Conference spokesman. It also asked several dioceses including San Francisco and San Jose to turn over certain documentation.

"What they're asking for is a straightforward, narrow request about how they're complying with the mandatory reporting responsibilities," Eckery said.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Friday morning that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was under investigation. Church officials later told The Chronicle that other dioceses were also asked to preserve their information.

"The California Department of Justice is conducting a review of your archdiocese's handling of sexual misconduct allegations involving children, including whether your archdiocese has adequately reported allegations of sexual misconduct, as required under California's Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act," read the state's letter to the Archdiocese of Sacramento.

It is unclear if the attorney general's office is asking the same of other dioceses.

Documents may include allegations of sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation; compliance policies with the state Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act; policies on workplace termination; recordkeeping policies and policies regarding the transfer of clergy between dioceses, according to the letter sent to the Sacramento archdiocese.

The archdioceses of San Francisco and Los Angeles, along with the dioceses of San Jose, Sacramento, Fresno and Orange County, were asked to voluntarily submit their documents to the attorney general's office in the next 30 days, a source familiar with the inquiry told The Chronicle.

"The Diocese of Sacramento regularly trains all mandated reporters about their obligations to report to law enforcement," said Eckery, who is also a spokesman for the Diocese of Sacramento.

A Diocese of San Jose spokeswoman said in a statement that clergy and mandated reporters in its parishes and schools are obligated to report sex abuse cases to local law enforcement.

"Even those who are not mandated reporters are reminded of the moral obligation to be aware of the signs of child abuse and to report it when there is a suspicion an abuse as occurred," said Liz Sullivan, the Diocese of San Jose's spokeswoman.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Francisco did not respond to requests for comment.

There are six other Catholic dioceses in California: Oakland, Santa Rosa, Monterey, Stockton, San Bernardino and San Diego.

It is unclear if Becerra's inquiry will lead to a larger investigation. His office declined to comment.

"To protect its integrity, we cannot comment on, even to confirm or deny, a potential or ongoing investigation," Becerra's office said.

Survivor advocates lauded the attorney general's move.

"Our position is they're not equipped or transparent enough to do an investigation of themselves," said Joey Piscitelli, a spokesman for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

A page on the state attorney general's website asks survivors to report any past incidents of sex abuse. The page was put up in November as dioceses across the United States began naming alleged abusers in the wake of a Pennsylvania grand jury report investigating the widespread cover-up of child sex abuse in its parishes.

Since October, three of the Bay Area's dioceses have publicly named clergymen accused of sexual abuse. The Diocese of San Jose named 16 priests accused of sexual abuse, while the Diocese of Santa Rosa named 39 and the Diocese of Oakland named 45 priests.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco said in November it would review over 4,000 personnel files for any allegations of sex abuse but has not recently released a list of accused priests.

(c)2019 the San Francisco Chronicle

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