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Omaha, Lincoln dioceses push back on subpoenas for child sex abuse records

CNA Friday, 1 March 2019
Omaha, Neb., Feb 28, 2019 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Omaha and the Diocese of Lincoln intend to ask a Nebraska court to suspend subpoenas compelling the Catholic institutions of the state to provide all records related to child sex abuse, CNA learned on Thursday.

The state attorney general's office issued subpoenas Feb. 26 to more than 400 Catholic churches and institutions, seeking any records related to child sexual assault or abuse.

Last year, the office had requested that the state's three dioceses voluntarily provide information on sexual abuse and other misconduct committed since 1978. Each of the dioceses have indicated their cooperation with that request.

An official of the Omaha archdiocese told CNA Feb. 28 that that archdiocese, along with the Lincoln diocese, are preparing to apply for injunctive relief from the subpoenas, in part to clarify their scope.

The attorney's general office announced Tuesday that “The Nebraska Department of Justice has appreciated the voluntary cooperation demonstrated by the churches. However, the Department believes that subpoenas are necessary in order to ensure all reports of impropriety have been submitted to the appropriate authorities.”

“It is our goal that all reports of abuse are subject to complete law enforcement review and investigation as warranted.”

The subpoenas, issued to institutions such as parishes and schools, as well as the dioceses, “request all records or information related to any child sexual assault or abuse that has occurred by those employed or associated with each church or institution, whether previously reported or not.”

Each of the state's dioceses have indicated their cooperation with a request made by the attorney general in September 2018 voluntarily to provide information on sexual abuse and other misconduct since 1978.

The Archdiocese of Omaha announced Nov. 30 that it had submitted to the attorney general “documents pertaining to church personnel accused of criminal sexual misconduct since 1978.” The documents included information on alleged abuse or misconduct with minors that dated back as far was 1956, but was not reported to the archdiocese until 1978.

In the Omaha archdiocese, documentation regarded 38 clerics with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of or misconduct with minors since 1978. Of these, four were deacons, and 34 had offended before 2002. Information about the offenders was also made public, and the release noted that seven deceased priests were accused, but the claims could not be substantiated, and five former seminarians were dismissed for substantiated claims of sexual misconduct with a minor.

The Diocese of Lincoln stated Feb. 26 that it has “voluntarily cooperated with the investigation since it was announced last September, and pledged its ongoing support to stop criminal behavior by predators.”

It added that it was reviewing the subpoena it had received.

Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt of Grand Island said Feb. 26 that his diocese had received the subpoenas, noting that they are “a commonly used legal tool to define the parameters of the inquiry.”

“While we don’t believe subpoenas were necessary, we will continue to share information with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office to bring this investigation to a conclusion,” Bishop Hanefeldt continued. “The Diocese is committed to the protection of children and safety of all, and to that end, has cooperated with the Nebraska Attorney’s Office in a voluntary review of files.”

The Diocese of Grand Island had also noted in November that it was completing a review of clergy files regarding sexual abuse of minors.

The inquiry in Nebraska follows new or revisited allegations of sexual abuse of minors or other misconduct committed by priests in the Lincoln diocese as far back as the 1980s. Several priests have resigned as pastors, while alleged misconduct of a former vocations director for the diocese, who died in 2008, also became a matter of public attention.

Sex abuse in the Church has been a matter of national attention since last summer.

In mid-August the Pennsylvania attorney general released a grand jury report following an 18-month investigation into the files of six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses. The report included allegations against 300 priests of abusing over 1,000 victims over a 70-year period.

And in June, then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was publicly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. He was laicized in January after being convicted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on charges of sexual abuse of minors and adults and solicitation in the confessional.



J.D. Flynn, editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency, previously served as special assistant to Bishop Conley and director of communications for the Lincoln diocese. Flynn has recused himself from coverage of this story to avoid a conflict-of-interest.
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