The attorney general for Washington, D.C., launched an investigation Tuesday into whether the local archdiocese covered up the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests.
Karl Racine’s announcement came on the heels of the resignation of Washington Archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl — and nearly three months after Wuerl’s predecessor, disgraced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, was removed from the ministry amid allegations he sexually abused a teenager while serving as a priest in New York a half-century ago.
“While we generally don’t talk publicly about our confidential enforcement activity, I can report that our office has launched a civil investigation,” Racine said at a breakfast meeting with local elected officials.
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Racine said his team is looking into whether the archdiocese, a nonprofit institution, violated the District’s Nonprofit Act “by potentially covering up allegations of sexual abuse of minors.”
“If they are in fact covering up child sex abuse, that is clearly not in the public interest,” Racine said.
Felony cases in the District are handled by the U.S. attorney’s office, but Racine has the power to enforce laws governing nonprofit groups operating in the nation’s capital. And among the most extreme penalties he could seek is revoking the archdiocese's nonprofit status.
Asked whether Racine would take that kind of step, a spokesman said, “We just can’t comment on that.”
There was no immediate response from the Archdiocese of Washington to Racine’s announcement. But earlier this month, it posted on its website the names of 28 former clergymen who had been accused of sexually abusing minors from 1948 onward.
In August, Racine said in a radio interview that he was “looking at” launching an investigation of the Archdiocese of Washington in the wake of a scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report that named 301 priests who were accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 boys and girls over decades.
Wuerl was not accused of abuse. But he was accused of failing to crack down on the predator priests when he was a bishop in Pittsburgh.