NewsLocal News


Clergy sex abuse investigation reveals hundreds of credible allegations across Nebraska

Posted at 10:23 AM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 19:31:16-04

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — On Thursday, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson released the final report from an investigation into clergy sexual abuse that began in August of 2018.

The investigation revealed 258 victims reported credible allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct across three dioceses in the state.

Peterson said the Lincoln Diocese had 97 victims, the Omaha Diocese had 158 victims, and the Grand Island Diocese had three victims; adding that the abuse was done by 57 church officials including priests, deacons and Catholic school teachers.

"This extensive review has been a very difficult process. The nature of the harm caused to these young innocent victims in indescribable the extent of physical and psychological harm caused by the perpetrator and the failure of the church to safeguard so many victims is gut-wrenching," Peterson said.

Another finding from the report is that on numerous occasions when there was a chance to bring justice to the victims, those in authority prioritized the reputation of the church above the protection of the children.

"They failed to act and in the messaging we saw in our was placing the reputation of the church above the needs of the child which is just incomprehensible and unacceptable," Peterson said.

The investigation began in August of 2018 when the Nebraska Department of Justice sent letters to the bishops of three Nebraska Dioceses requesting all investigative files they had regarding child sex abuse dating back to January of 1978. All three dioceses from Lincoln, Omaha and Grand Island submitted files.

Additionally, the dioceses were asked for the policies and procedures used for reporting and investigating sexual misconduct allegations. Peterson says all three dioceses have been cooperative.

An examination of the material found the policies and procedures weren’t uniform, according to the Nebraska Department of Justice. Each diocese had a different system for evaluating reports of abuse or misconduct.

During the investigation, the Department of Justice determined more information was needed to complete the report. On February 19, 2019, 426 subpoenas to individual Catholic churches and schools across the state were issued, requesting records and documentation related to allegations of sexual abuse.

A review of those files found that some victims of sexual abuse had entered into financial settlement agreements with the dioceses. This resulted in subpoenas issued to the liability insurance company which represented the dioceses to collect more information.

Investigators also reviewed all psychological evaluations of priests who were being investigated for claims of sexual misconduct.

See more from the report below and read it in full here.

The investigation involved:

  • 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 says the investigation found the 2002 Dallas Charter did improve things, but many survivors don't report sexual abuse until years later, meaning those who may have been abused after 2002 may not have come forward yet.

Peterson says the most frustrating part of the investigation is they are unable to prosecute a majority of those identified as predators because the cases have expired under the statute of limitations. The current statute of limitation states there is no time limit for sexual assault in the first or second degree. That was put in place in 2004 and had a reach-back period which meant any case that had not expired under the previous statute was also included. But, many cases filed under the AG's report date back farther than that. Only one case has not expired, but the survivor does not want to testify.

"In some ways, this is a feeble attempt to have their voices be heard but it’s frustrating. Your voice can be heard but we’re not able to bring you criminal resolution," Peterson said.

He adds this isn't just a problem in the Catholic Church but churches of all denominations and any organizations that serve children, such as schools and youth sports.

"It’s imperative not only for members of the catholic church but members of all churches, schools, youth-related organizations to commit to policies and practices to protect our children from these pedophiles," Peterson said.

Read a joint statement from Nebraska’s three bishops regarding the report 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. To our knowledge, the Attorney General’s investigation and report concern 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 - Archdiocese of Omaha, Bishop James D. Conley - Diocese of Lincoln, Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt - Diocese of Grand Island"

While the report has revealed new cases of alleged sexual assault, many will not result in new prosecutions due to a former statute of limitations law.

Nebraska Sen. Rich Pahls said, "The report documents 258 victims of sexual assault, but did not generate any new prosecutions to respond to the needs of these victims. That is because, though Nebraska currently has no statute of limitations on sexual assault of a child, it did at one time and those victims were assaulted at a time when the old statute of limitations applied. This has in effect denied these victims justice and I am committed to setting this right. That is why I am bringing legislation to address this egregious and unacceptable state of affairs."

He added, "In the upcoming Nebraska legislative session, I will be introducing bills to eliminate the statute of limitations for third parties in civil cases involving the sexual assault of a child, and to introduce a 'lookback window' to examine criminal cases whose statutes of limitations expired before Nebraska law was amended to remove them entirely. It is my hope that these two bills will lead to closure for victims of sexual assault who have been denied justice for far too long."

If you are a victim of sexual abuse within the church, there is help.

To report abuse with the Omaha or Lincoln Diocese — or across the state — you can contact the Nebraska Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-652-1999 or you can contact the Diocesan Safe Environment Coordinator at 402-613-2488.

Download our apps today for all of our latest coverage.

Get the latest news and weather delivered straight to your inbox.