Nebraska attorney general releases report on clergy sexual abuse

Nebraska Capitol Credit  Steven Frame   Shutterstock The Nebraska capitol. | Steven Frame/Shutterstock

A report detailing sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Nebraska has found credible allegations against 57 Church officials, involving 258 documented victims, since the 1930s. 

“We acknowledge with sadness that so many innocent minors and young adults were harmed by Catholic clergy and other representatives of the Church,” Nebraska’s bishops wrote in a Nov. 4 joint statement. “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.”

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson released the report Nov. 4, after a three-year investigation that began with an invitation for victims of abuse to call one of two available hotlines. The initial investigation was not limited to clergy of a particular community, but the attorney general turned his focus to the Catholic Church after all but one of the more than 120 calls received involved Catholic clergy. 

The investigation found credible allegations of sexual abuse and/or misconduct against 51 priests, four deacons, and two teachers. It found 158 documented victims from the Archdiocese of Omaha, 97 from the Diocese of Lincoln, and three from the Diocese of Grand Island. 

The majority of the victims were teenage boys. The report suggests many of the boys were also altar servers. Victims ranged in ages from under ten years old to young adults in their early 20s. 

The attorney general found that no allegations of clergy sexual abuse in the report were still prosecutable. 

Cases span over 70 years, with the highest number of total victims in the 1990s. The report found a marked dropoff in cases following the implementation of the Dallas Charter in 2002. 

The report noted a few patterns in the cases, including grooming behavior by the offender prior to sexual abuse. Offenders often found ways to find alone time with a minor before committing any abuse, and they often targeted minors living in difficult family situations. They frequently used alcohol, video games, or food to build a relationship of trust with their victims.  

The report found that in many cases, authorities within the Church, including at times the bishop or archbishop, were aware of the abusive behaviors of a priest, but took no measures to remove the priest from ministry. Offenders were often sent for counseling, and in some cases they were simply reassigned to another parish. 

The report also found a history of poor documentation of allegations of clergy sexual abuse, and repeated failure of Church authorities to report allegations of sexual abuse of minors to law enforcement. 

“This report...points out mistakes made in the way dioceses received, reported and responded to allegations of sexual abuse in the past,” Nebraska’s bishops wrote. “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.”

The Nebraska DOJ investigated reports from the Archdiocese of Omaha and the Diocese of Grand Island. The Lincoln Police Department investigated reports from the Diocese of Lincoln. 

All three dioceses cooperated with the investigation.

Nebraska’s bishops have encouraged anyone who believes that a member of the clergy, a Church worker, or a volunteer has engaged in inappropriate behavior with a minor to 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,” the bishops wrote.

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