Delaware launches widespread probe into possible sex abuse by priests

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn has issued a broad subpoena seeking Catholic Diocese of Wilmington records on possible sexual abuse by priest in recent decades. (WHYY, file)

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn has issued a broad subpoena seeking Catholic Diocese of Wilmington records on possible sexual abuse by priest in recent decades. (WHYY, file)

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn has initiated an investigation into possible sexual and other abuse by Catholic priests and other church employees since 1955.

One-term incumbent Denn is not seeking re-election next week but issued a subpoena to the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington on Sept. 11, nearly a month after a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children by about 300 “predator priests” across that state.

“This investigation has focused on the acquisition and review of diocesan papers for records of sexual or other abuse,’’ Denn spokesman Carl Kanefsky said in a news release. The subpoena is for “a broad range of diocesan records covering a period of decades.”

Kanefsky added that the probe is being undertaken “to determine whether there are any prosecutable criminal cases that may have not come to light in previous reviews of information provided by the diocese.”

Previously, the Attorney General’s Office reviewed diocesan records covering 2002 to 2004, Kanefsky said.

One former Delaware priest has been charged with sex crimes since the nationwide scandal of priest sexual abuse was revealed in 2002. John Sarro was to face trial early next year for the alleged rape of a preteen girl in the early 1990s, but Sarro died in July.

The diocese, however, agreed in 2011 to pay $77 million to 146 alleged victims of abuse by clergy members.

Bishop W. Francis Malooly would not comment about the new investigation, according to diocesan spokesman Robert Krebs. Krebs issued a statement after the announcement by Denn’s office that said the records sought dated back to 1955.

We welcome this investigation and are fully cooperating,” Krebs wrote. “The files requested by the attorney general include the files of abusive priests that were made public six years ago in accordance with the non-monetary provisions of the diocesan bankruptcy settlement.

“These files are available through various online sources.  Twelve years ago, the names of all known abusive priests were also made public.”

His statement added that in April 2002, “diocesan officials met with the Delaware attorney general and disclosed all reports of abuse the diocese had received up to that time, and cooperated fully in the ensuing investigation undertaken by the Department of Justice.”

Echoing what Malooly said after the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released, Krebs wrote that the diocese “has not had a credible reported instance of the sexual abuse of a child by anyone in diocesan or parish ministry in over 25 years. We are confident that with our safe environment and reporting policies and our continued vigilance, we will continue to ensure that our parishes and schools are safe and sacred spaces. We encourage anyone who has been sexually abused by a member of the clergy or anyone else, to immediately notify local law enforcement authorities.

The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington was established in 1868, and comprises 56 parishes, 18 missions and 36 schools in Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Denn’s office is asking potential victims of abuse by diocesan personnel to contact (302) 577-5293 or ReportAbuse@state.de.us to provide information to prosecutors and investigators as part of this review.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.