Report details ‘staggering’ church sex abuse in Maryland
BALTIMORE (AP) — More than 150 Catholic priests and others associated with the Archdiocese of Baltimore have sexually abused more than 600 children over the past 80 years, according to a state report released Wednesday that accuses church officials of decades of concealment.
The report paints a damning picture of the archdiocese, which is the oldest Roman Catholic diocese in the country and spans much of Maryland. Some parishes, schools and congregations had more than one abuser at the same time – including St. Mark’s Parish in Catonsville, which had 11 abusers living and working there between 1964 and 2004.
The Maryland attorney general’s office released the report during Holy Week – considered the holiest time of the year in Christianity before Easter Sunday – and said the death toll was likely much higher.
“The staggering pervasiveness of the abuse itself underscores the culpability of the Church hierarchy,” the report said. “The number of abusers and victims, the depravity of the abusers’ conduct, and the frequency with which known abusers were given the opportunity to continue preying on children is astonishing.”
The release of the redacted findings marks a significant development in an ongoing legal battle over their publication and adds to growing evidence from parishes across the country as numerous similar revelations have rocked the Catholic Church in recent years.
Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, in a statement posted online, apologized to the victims and said the report “details a reprehensible time in the history of this archdiocese, a time that will not be covered up, ignored or forgotten”.
“It’s hard for most to imagine such evil acts could have happened,” Lori said. “For victim-survivors around the world, they know the hard truth: These evil acts happened.”
Also on Wednesday, the state Legislature passed a bill to end the statute of limitations on abuse-related civil suits, sending it to Gov. Wes Moore, who said he supports it. The Archdiocese of Baltimore says it has paid more than $13.2 million for care and compensation for 301 abuse victims since the 1980s, including $6.8 million for 105 voluntary settlements.
Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown, who took office in January, said the investigation showed “pervasive, pernicious and persistent abuse.” State investigators began their work in 2019 and have reviewed more than 100,000 pages of documents dating back to the 1940s and interviewed hundreds of victims and witnesses.
Only one person has been charged in the investigation: Neil Adleberg, 74, who was arrested last year and charged with rape and other charges. The case remains ongoing. Officials said he coached wrestling at a Catholic high school in the 1970s and then took over the role for the 2014-15 school year. The alleged abuse took place in 2013 and 2014, but the victim was not a student at the school, officials said.
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, noted that the attorney general’s report contains more names of abusers than were made public by archdiocesan officials. . The organization asked the archbishop to explain the discrepancies.
Other investigations involving the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, which both include parts of Maryland, are ongoing.
The Baltimore report largely focuses on the years leading up to 2002, when a Boston Globe investigation into abuse and cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston led to an explosion of revelations nationwide. The country’s Catholic bishops, for the first time, then agreed on reforms, including a lifetime ban from ministry for any priest who commits even a single incident of abuse.
The report notes that while new national policies have significantly improved the internal handling of reported abuses in the Archdiocese of Baltimore after 2002, significant flaws remain.
For example, some alleged abusers have been allowed to retire, with financial support, rather than being ousted. In other cases before 2002, the archdiocese did not report the allegations to authorities, or did not remove the abusers from the ministry or restrict their access to the children.
In some situations, victims ended up reporting the abuse to priests who abused them themselves, prosecutors wrote.
Jean Hargadon Wehner said she was abused in Baltimore as a teenager by A. Joseph Maskell, a priest who served as a counselor and chaplain at her Catholic high school. She said she reported her abuse to church officials in the early 1990s, when her memories of the trauma finally surfaced some two decades after she was repeatedly raped.
“I expected them to do the right thing in 1992,” she told reporters on Wednesday. “I’m still angry.”
More than a dozen people have accused Maskell of abuse. The priest denied the allegations before his death in 2001, and he was never criminally charged.
The Associated Press does not usually name victims of abuse, but Hargadon Wehner has spoken publicly to draw attention to the problem.
The report also includes numerous examples of church leaders taking action to protect accused clergy. In 1964, for example, Father Laurence Brett admitted to sexually abusing a teenager at a Catholic university in Connecticut.
He was sent to New Mexico under the guise of hepatitis treatment and then to Sacramento, where another teenager said he was abused by Brett, according to the report. He was then assigned to Baltimore, where he served as chaplain at an all-boys Catholic high school.
After several students accused him of abuse in 1973, Brett was allowed to resign, saying he had to care for a sick aunt. School officials did not report the abuse to authorities, and dozens of other victims later came forward. He never faced criminal charges and died in 2010.
State attorneys asked a court for permission to release the nearly 500-page document, and a Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled last month that a redacted version should be made public. The court ordered the removal of the names and titles of 37 people accused of wrongdoing – whose names came out in confidential grand jury proceedings – but will consider releasing a more comprehensive version in the future.
Lawmakers’ passage of a bill to end the state’s statute of limitations on Wednesday came after similar proposals failed in recent years. Currently, victims of child sexual abuse in Maryland cannot sue after they turn 38. The bill would eliminate the age limit and allow for retroactive prosecution.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore has long come under scrutiny for its handling of abuse allegations.
In 2002, Cardinal William Keeler, who served as archbishop of Baltimore for nearly two decades, released a list of 57 priests accused of sexual abuse, earning him a reputation for transparency at a time when the national scope wrongdoing remained largely unexposed. That changed, however, when a Pennsylvania grand jury charged Keeler with covering up sexual abuse allegations while serving as bishop of Harrisburg in the 1980s.
Witte reported from Annapolis and Brumfield reported from Silver Spring.
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