DC Attorney General Opens Abuse Investigation in Archdiocese of Washington

The announcement was made Oct. 23.

Cathedral of St. Matthew, Washington, D.C.
Cathedral of St. Matthew, Washington, D.C. (photo: Credit: MarcosCarvalho/Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON —The District of Columbia’s attorney general has opened an investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Washington. The announcement was made during the “Mayor-Council Breakfast” meeting Oct. 23.

A statement released by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racinev said that “while we generally don’t talk publicly about our confidential enforcement activity, I can report that our office has launched a civil investigation into whether the archdiocese — which is a nonprofit institution — violated the District’s Nonprofit Act by potentially covering up allegations of sexual abuse of minors.”

Racine told the breakfast meeting that, “according to the law, nonprofits are required to work for a public purpose; if they are in fact covering up child sex abuse, that is clearly not in the public interest.”

CNA contacted the attorney general’s office and asked if the investigation was in response to allegations it had received or if it was a proactive step being taken on the AG’s own initiative. A representative for the attorney general’s office declined to comment and said they were not prepared to answer “detailed questions” about the announcement.  

Racine previously stated in a radio interview in August that he had received considerable pressure from the public to open such an investigation.

The Archdiocese of Washington is currently led by Cardinal Donald Wuerl as interim administrator, pending the appointment of a successor by Pope Francis.

A spokesman for the archdiocese told CNA that archdiocesan officials met with the attorney general last month and stressed their eagerness to engage in a collaborative and cooperative process.

The spokesman also said that the archdiocese encouraged the attorney general to consider a wider investigation into all bodies with a child-protection mandate, including other charities and public schools, in the interests of the public good. “Clearly the attorney general has decided to go another way,” the spokesman said.

On Oct. 15, the Archdiocese of Washington released a list of clergy who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse. At the time of that release, the archdiocese stressed that no priest currently in ministry had been accused of sexual abuse and that no credible allegations had been received concerning the abuse of minors in nearly 20 years.

News of the attorney general’s investigation comes only one day after the opening of a special hotline for residents of the district to report allegations of clerical sexual abuse. That line was announced Monday by federal prosecutors at the Superior Court Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

Following the publication of the Pennsylvania grand jury report in July, attorneys general in several states have announced similar inquiries, including in Michigan, Missouri, Maryland, New York and New Jersey. Last week, federal prosecutors served subpoenas to the dioceses of Pennsylvania, opening a new investigation into clerical sexual abuse in that state.

The Washington attorney general specifically emphasized the trend, saying in his remarks Tuesday that “our investigation brings the count of states with open investigations to 14.”

The Archdiocese of Washington is home to nearly 700,000 Catholics, six Catholic colleges and universities, and 93 Catholic schools.

As the last archdiocese to be led by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Washington has been the subject of considerable attention and scrutiny during a summer in which several different sexual-abuse scandals unfolded at once.

Despite accusations of sexual abuse or harassment against McCarrick concerning his time in several dioceses in New York and New Jersey, no public accusations have been made concerning his time in Washington, either while archbishop or in retirement.

Ed Condon is the Washington editor of CNA.