The Diocese of Jefferson City is enacting several measures to combat sexual abuse by priests, increase transparency within the diocese and help survivors of abuse heal, Bishop Shawn McKnight said in a Friday press conference.

In a prepared statement, McKnight said the entirety of the Catholic Church is obligated to fix the “gaping wound” of clergy sexual abuse. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington, was suspended in July and later resigned after being accused of sexually abusing seminarians when he was a bishop in New Jersey. Earlier this month, a grand jury report in Pennsylvania revealed that more than 300 priests had abused more than 1,000 children.

 

Attorney General Josh Hawley announced Thursday that he will investigate potential sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Missouri. McKnight invited Hawley on Thursday to review files from the diocese as part of his investigation. He promised transparency after McCarrick’s suspension and the grand jury report, and he reiterated his promise at the press conference.

“Transparency serves all of us,” he said, “survivors of abuse, the faithful, our good priests and deacons.”

McKnight said he ordered diocesan staff to compare the names on the Pennsylvania grand jury report to clergy records, and they found a match. Father John “Jack” Pender was a priest in multiple Pulaski County parishes in the 1970s and 1980s. He later served in the Diocese of Scranton in Pennsylvania, and he died in 2009. McKnight said anyone with information about Pender can contact the diocese’s victim assistance coordinator, although there is no indication at the moment that Pender committed any abuse during his time in the diocese.

“We’re reaching out in an abundance of caution,” McKnight said.

The victim assistance coordinator, Nancy Hoey, is a licensed professional counselor and certified to work with trauma victims. McKnight urged anyone with information about any clergy who have abused to contact her.

In light of the allegations against McCarrick, McKnight created a temporary protocol for accusations of abuse against the bishop. There is no such protocol in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops created after the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Church in 2002. An independent investigator will determine if an accusation against the bishop of Jefferson City is likely to be true. If it is there will be an investigation and a report to the Review Board of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. A national protocol is expected to replace this interim one after a USCCB meeting in November.

The diocese has a review board of laypeople who advise the bishop on accusations of sexual abuse against clergy. McKnight said the board has been “extremely helpful” and he will continue to consult it. Two other councils will work with McKnight to review existing policies and propose new ones to deal with the sexual abuse crisis. One council is composed of priests, and the other is composed of laypeople, religious sisters, priests and deacons.

Additionally, the diocese will schedule a Mass to “express our sorrow for the sins of sexual abuse” and to pray for the healing of all victims of the scandal, McKnight said.

As soon as he became bishop in February, McKnight authorized an independent review of all living clergy in the diocese. He said the review found none of them responsible for abuse, and the diocese was preparing to release the results of the review when Hawley launched his investigation. St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson contacted Hawley on Thursday and offered to provide him with documents from the archdiocese. Hawley accepted the offer and encouraged the other three dioceses in Missouri to do the same. McKnight said he and James V. Johnston Jr., bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, responded immediately.

Hawley initially claimed such an investigation was not under his office’s jurisdiction after survivors of clergy sexual abuse called for one outside his St. Louis office on Wednesday. Nicole Gorovsky, an attorney who represents sexual abuse survivors, wrote in a letter to Hawley that his office did in fact have the power to coordinate law enforcement and prosecution efforts. She took issue with Hawley’s response to Carlson’s offer of files from the archdiocese.

“Allowing the accused wrongdoer to pick and choose what will be provided in an investigation of his wrongdoing is not an investigation at all,” Gorovsky wrote.

McKnight said he believes Hawley’s investigation will produce a credible report that the community can accept.

Rev. Gregory Meystrik, a member of the Diocesan Administration team, said recent reports of abuse within the Church are a second wave to people who experienced the scandal of 2002, but only the first wave to those too young to remember it. In recent years, situations like the #MeToo movement and the USA Gymnastics scandal have demonstrated how rampant sexual abuse is in society, he said.

“We’ve been trying to set up measures in which child abuse awareness and prevention are systemic,” Meystrik said. “Part of the fabric of the Church, part of our DNA.”