Open your files.
This is the directive the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office has given to the state’s three Catholic dioceses. It comes in the wake of last month’s scathing grand jury report examining the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania, where some 300 priests were found to have abused at least 1,000 minors over the past 70 years.
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson is not asking Catholic officials to go back that far in their records. He is asking for the past 40 years.
In letters sent over the past several days to Omaha Archbishop George Lucas, Lincoln Bishop James Conley and Grand Island Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt, Peterson is requesting any information on claims of sexual exploitation — including incidents of child pornography or “sexual communication with another person” — by anyone with authority to carry out church functions from Jan. 1, 1978, to the present.
This is not a polite request, according to a national expert on state attorneys general. Peterson’s office said state law gives him joint criminal jurisdiction in all 93 counties.
“In that role, the office has a long history of investigating and prosecuting child abuse and child sexual assault cases throughout the state,” he said in a statement that his office released Wednesday.
The letter is dated last Thursday and notes that since Aug. 16, when Peterson issued a formal request for victims of sexual abuse to come forward, “we have received a number of reports which have warranted further investigation.”
The Diocese of Lincoln is particularly notable:
The Lincoln diocese is investigating six priests for alleged abuse or improper behavior. The Rev. Nicholas Kipper, spokesman for the diocese, said Bishop Conley “has and will continue to cooperate fully with law enforcement.”
For years, that diocese declined to participate in an annual audit determining whether churches are compliant with church policies on sex abuse. The audit was conducted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the wake of the bombshell 2002 Boston Globe report on the issue.
Former Lincoln Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz refused to participate, and the diocese at times was the only one in the county that did not submit to the audit. Kipper said that changed under Conley, who replaced Bruskewitz in 2012. The Lincoln diocese has participated in the audit since 2016.