Maryland attorney general seeking reports of child sex abuse at churches, schools

A notice on the webpage of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh suggests that state authorities are conducting an investigation similar to one in Pennsylvania that found decades of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic clergy and cover-ups by church leaders.

Following standard practice, the attorney general’s office declined to confirm or deny that an investigation is under way. But a spokeswoman said the notice inviting victims to report offenses “associated with a school or place of worship” has been on the website for about a month.

That means Frosh’s office posted it shortly after Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released an explosive grand jury report on Aug. 14 that said more than 300 "predator priests" in that state had been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children.

The report concluded that for decades church officials, including the leaders of archdioceses, covered up crimes such as the rapes of children.

Joe Grace, a spokesman for Shapiro, said his office did not publicize the grand jury investigation. He said there were no leaks before Shapiro unveiled the report in mid-August.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has at times clashed with Frosh, a Democrat. But Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said the governor would welcome a probe.

“The governor has said that, as a Catholic, he believes all allegations of this nature must be taken seriously and fully investigated,” Chasse said.

Sean Caine, a spokesman for the Archdoicese of Baltimore, said he did not know whether anyone there was aware of a possible investigation.

He said that for more than two decades, the archdiocese has made a written report of every allegation of abuse to civil authorities, with a copy to the attorney general.

The notice on the Maryland attorney general’s page is under its “quick links” section. If visitors click on a heading that says “Victims of Child Sexual Abuse,” they see a notice thanking them for contacting the office and expressing appreciation for “your courage in coming forward with information about child sexual abuse.”

“If you were a victim of an abuser associated with a school or place of worship, or you have knowledge of such abuse, please provide the information you want to share about it in the link below.” the notice reads. “We will be in touch with you, although we will not be able to comment or provide any information regarding an investigation. In some cases we may also refer the information to the local state's attorney where the abuse occurred.”

The attorney general’s office took a further step Friday evening, tweeting out a call for victims and witnesses of abuse to contact the office.

There is at least one critical difference between Maryland and Pennsylvania law on the powers of the attorney general. In Pennsylvania, the attorney general can ask a judge to convene a grand jury. If Frosh were to decide he wanted a grand jury involved in an investigation, he would have to act in concert with a local state’s attorney’s office.

Frosh said he believes a grand jury would have the authority to write a report such as Pennsylvania’s, in addition to its usual task of deciding who to indict.

The Catholic Church sex abuse scandal has become an issue in Frosh’s race for re-election. After the Pennsylvania report, Republican challenger Craig Wolf called for Frosh to open a similar investigation.

Spokesman Dan Smith said the Wolf campaign has heard from advocates against child abuse who have called Frosh’s office and haven’t received responses. Smith said Frosh hasn’t been nearly as aggressive as other state attorneys general in letting the public know they’re investigating.

“Frosh’s office has been very quiet on it. From the outside, it doesn’t appear they’ve been doing much on it,” Smith said.

Frosh said he’s following a policy his office’s prosecutors have observed for decades.

“We’ve confined ourselves to the normal conduct for responding to inquiries about what we’re investigating, who we’re investigating, when we’re investigating,” he said.

mdresser@baltsun.com

twitter.com/michaeltdresser

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