The state’s top prosecutor has taken a step further into the priest sex-abuse scandal, asking Nebraska’s bishops for records of allegations and investigations dating back decades.
Attorney General Doug Peterson last week requested the bishops in Lincoln, Omaha and Grand Island provide investigative records generated since Jan. 1, 1978. The request covers reports of sexual exploitation, including child pornography.
The request comes after Peterson last month urged victims of priest sex abuse — or abuse by others in authority — to report their cases to law enforcement or the child abuse hotline, regardless of when the abuse occurred.
The Lancaster County Attorney’s Office will receive the Lincoln-area cases and forward them to the police and sheriff’s office for investigation, said County Attorney Pat Condon.
“Then, depending on what any investigation turns up, that will determine whether there will be prosecution through our office,” Condon said.
Condon doesn’t know how many cases to expect, though his office had already received one report, he said.
Lincoln Bishop James Conley intends to cooperate with the attorney general, diocese spokesman Rev. Nicholas Kipper said Wednesday, though he declined to comment further. “We are in full compliance with law enforcement,” he said.
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Angie Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Grand Island Diocese, said Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt intends to fully cooperate with the request.
And Omaha Archbishop George Lucas issued a news release Wednesday, also saying his diocese intends to cooperate with Peterson. “The truth is good for everyone,” he said. “I see this as a real moment of grace.”
The Lincoln Diocese has been embroiled in the controversy. In the past month, Conley removed three priests for misconduct accusations, including providing alcohol to an altar server, being alone with females after being warned not to, and an allegation of sexual contact with an adult woman. A fourth priest resigned over an undisclosed incident that occurred when he was in the Nebraska Army National Guard.
The diocese is also investigating allegations the late Monsignor Leonard Kalin — former director of vocation for the diocese and longtime pastor at the Newman Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln — tried to force himself on seminarians and students.
And it identified a priest accused of sexually abusing adolescent boys in two cases from the 1980s and 1990s. Rev. Jim Benton has denied allegations he tried to molest the boys during a camping trip and a rectory sleepover, but the diocese last year sent him to a home for retired priests and ordered him not to be alone with minors.
The Lincoln Diocese has since announced it’s creating a hotline and website so victims can anonymously report cases of abuse and misconduct, and it’s hiring a victim-assistance coordinator to provide support to child victims of sex abuse.