Washington state asks court to force Seattle Archdiocese to comply with abuse inquiry

Washington state asks court to force Seattle Archdiocese to comply with abuse inquiry

St. James Cathedral in Seattle. / Credit: DarrylBrooks/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, May 10, 2024 / 11:30 am (CNA).

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson this week announced legal action against the Archdiocese of Seattle over what the prosecutor said was a refusal to cooperate with the state’s ongoing investigation into an alleged cover-up of clergy abuse there. 

Ferguson’s office said in a Thursday press release and at an accompanying press conference that it was “initiating legal action against the Seattle Archdiocese” over the archdiocese’s alleged refusal “to comply with Ferguson’s investigation into whether the three Washington dioceses of the Catholic Church used charitable funds to cover up allegations of child sex abuse by clergy.”

The attorney general’s office said that pursuant to that investigation it had sent subpoenas to Washington’s three Catholic bishoprics — the Seattle Archdiocese as well as the Dioceses of Spokane and Yakima — but that the Seattle Archdiocese “refused to cooperate.”

Ferguson subsequently filed a petition in King County Superior Court demanding that the attorney general’s office be allowed to “enforce its investigative subpoena” and that the court “require the archdiocese to respond in full.”

“Washingtonians deserve a public accounting of how the Catholic Church handles allegations of child sex abuse, and whether charitable dollars were used to cover it up,” Ferguson said this week.

“As a Catholic, I am disappointed the Church refuses to cooperate with our investigation. Our goal is to use every tool we have to reveal the truth and give a voice to survivors.”

In a response to the announcement, the Archdiocese of Seattle in a Thursday statement said that it disagreed with the attorney general’s characterization of the dispute.

The archdiocese “welcomes this investigation because we have a shared goal of abuse prevention, healing for victims and transparency,” the statement said.

“We have been collaborating with the attorney general’s legal team on the shared legal analysis, which is common for investigations like this,” the archdiocese said.

The attorney general’s Thursday press conference “was a surprise to us since we welcome the investigation and have been working closely with the attorney general’s team for months now.”

“The attorney general’s claim that we have not ‘shared a single document that is not public’ is not how we see it,” the archdiocese continued. 

The statement said that earlier this week the archdiocese “offered to submit a series of private deposition documents” but that Ferguson’s office was “not interested in these private documents.”

The archdiocese also disputed an allegation made at the press conference that the archdiocese is not meeting abuse victims “face-to-face.”

“[E]ach victim is offered pastoral care, which includes an invitation for a face-to-face meeting with the archbishop and victim assistance coordinator, among other options to facilitate healing,” the statement said. 

The archdiocese said it “share[s] the common goal to prevent abuse and provide a path for healing for victims and their families.”

The Seattle Archdiocese is currently led by Archbishop Paul Etienne, who has served there since 2019.