COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Five advocacy groups are calling on Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to launch an investigation into the state’s Catholic churches for past and potential child abuse.
The group is hoping that a statewide investigation into the Catholic churches across Ohio will help stop what they call “the cycle of abuse.”
“It takes seconds to abuse a child and a lifetime to overcome it,” said Claudia Vercelloti, the leader of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
The groups, which advocate for survivors of sexual abuse, said this is not the first time they have called on the Yost for such an investigation. They said they did so in 2019 too.
“The cycle of abuse and cover-up has continued,” said Teresa Dinwiddie-Herrmann, co-chair of Ohioans for Child Protection. “Since that time, five clergy members in our state have been convicted.”
Since that call to action, Illinois, Maryland and Pennsylvania all concluded investigations into their Catholic churches. In those three states, investigators found that there were 49 priests with ties to Ohio accused of sexually abusing children.
“What we know, Attorney General Yost, is that these investigations, they matter,” Vercellotti said.
However, Yost said his hands are tied. He said what the group is asking for is not permitted by state law.
“Ohio does not give the attorney general primary authority in this area,” Yost said. “We can’t initiate an investigation; we have to be invited in by a prosecutor or a police chief or a sheriff into their jurisdiction.”
He said local agencies can ask for help with forensics, analytics and investigations.
“Those are things that we support locals on all the time,” Yost said. “But in terms of me initiating that, it’s simply not within my statutory authority.”
Advocates said they will keep pushing until some sort of action is taken.
“It is time that the Catholic dioceses across the state of Ohio no longer gets a free pass on the backs of our children, no longer do they get the license to prey, ‘p-r-e-y,’ on our most vulnerable,” Vercellotti said.
Yost does encourage anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault to contact their local law enforcement.
“We want them to have their day in court,” Yost said. “We want justice to be done.”