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AG issues 400 subpoenas seeking records from Catholic churches in Nebraska

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Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson issued more than 400 subpoenas to Catholic churches and institutions across the state Tuesday to compel officials to turn over information on child sexual assault and abuse within the church.

The legal summonses seek all records or information related to any assault or abuse that has occurred by those employed or associated with each church or institution, whether previously reported or not, according to a news release.

Thus far, the state's three dioceses have cooperated with Peterson's investigation, which sought 40 years of internal investigative records.

A spokesman for the diocese of Lincoln said officials are reviewing the subpoena received Tuesday. He reiterated the diocese has voluntarily cooperated with the investigation and "pledged its ongoing support to stop criminal behavior by predators," the Rev. Nicholas Kipper said in a written statement Tuesday night. 

Kipper did not respond to an email with questions regarding any documents withheld from state investigators or ongoing internal reviews of abuse allegations.

Peterson "believes subpoenas are necessary in order to ensure all reports of impropriety have been submitted to the appropriate authorities," the news release said. "It is our goal that all reports of abuse are subject to complete law enforcement review and investigation as warranted."

Asked whether state investigators believe church officials have withheld pertinent records, a spokeswoman for Peterson had no comment.

In August, the Attorney General's Office requested anyone with knowledge of abuse by clergy or other church staff to report it and that the state's three bishops turn over diocese records concerning alleged abuse.

Lancaster County Attorney Pat Condon, who is assisting in the investigation, deferred comment on his review of records. But in November, he said the Diocese of Lincoln was cooperating.

Peterson and his counterparts in other states announced their investigations into child sex abuse within the church in the wake of the August release of findings from a probe into the problem in Pennsylvania. 

A two-year grand jury examination there led by Pennsylvania's attorney general identified 300 priests credibly accused of abusing more than 1,000 children dating back to 1947 in the state's six dioceses.

In late November, the Omaha Archdiocese released a report identifying 38 clergy that it said had substantiated abuse allegations against them.

The Diocese of Lincoln hasn't yet issued a similar report.

But in November, Lincoln Bishop James Conley announced the diocese would have an independent task force review allegations of child sexual abuse and misconduct with minors and how the diocese handled them.

Within the Diocese of Lincoln, there are 134 parishes, according to the Nebraska Catholic Conference. Nebraska has 350 Catholic churches overall.

In the pews, parishioners at Catholic churches across Lincoln have regularly offered prayers at Sunday Masses for those victimized by clergy and church staff. They've also prayed for diocese officials as they lead the Catholic church in turbulent times.

The diocese's four-person task force was instructed to issue a final report on its findings and what information Conley should release to the public by Feb. 1. 

Those clergy named in the Omaha report were mostly priests, and some cases date back 60 years but were reported after 1978, the year the state probe looks back to.

The archdiocese said 34 of the 38 clergy members were accused of abusing minors before 2002, when the U.S. Conference of Bishops required dioceses to take steps to protect children. None remain with the archdiocese.

The Lincoln Diocese removed four priests for misconduct last summer, though none of those cases involved allegations of child sexual abuse.

Since August, Conley has rearranged his administrative staff, hired a victim-assistance coordinator, launched an anonymous tip line and encouraged church members to report past and present cases of abuse.

David Clohessy, a spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, lauded Peterson's move.

"We applaud Nebraska's attorney general for the subpoenas he's issued to 400 Catholic institutions about child sex abuse and cover-ups. We urge other attorneys general to take similar steps promptly ,which would decrease the chances that crucial church records might be moved or destroyed."

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On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.


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Local government reporter

Riley Johnson reports on local government in Lincoln.

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