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Nebraska investigation: Catholic clergy sexually abused hundreds of victims

NOEL KING, HOST:

Nebraska's attorney general conducted an investigation that found that Catholic clergy in that state sexually abused hundreds of victims, but the offenders can't be prosecuted. Nebraska Public Media's Will Bauer explains why that is.

WILL BAUER, BYLINE: Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson's office identified 258 victims of sexual abuse dating back to the 1930s across the state's three Catholic diocese.

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DOUG PETERSON: The extent of physical and psychological harm caused by the perpetrators and the failure of the church to safeguard so many victims is gut-wrenching.

BAUER: And Peterson says by no means did his office find every victim or abuser. In the three-year investigation released Thursday, the office found evidence of 57 abusers, few of whom are still alive. Investigators found evidence that the church knew about the assaults and didn't properly report them to law enforcement. Peterson had this message for church leaders.

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PETERSON: Don't ever put the reputation of your association, your church organization, above protecting the children.

BAUER: According to the investigation, 91% of the victims were male, nearly 60% were legal minors at the time of the abuse. The findings in Nebraska are not the first of their kind, and they fit into the bigger picture nationally. The attorney general referenced similar investigations in Pennsylvania, Iowa and Colorado. A sexual abuse victim who showed up at the investigation's release asked that we only identify her as Stacy. She says she was relieved at the announcement.

STACY: I feel like people are listening now. I've never had that before.

BAUER: Nebraska's three Catholic bishops issued a joint statement responding to the report. In that, they say, quote, "it is clear that the hurt is still felt even if the abuse was perpetrated many years ago." The statement went on to say that the bishops apologize to the victims and their families for the pain, betrayal and suffering that never should have been experienced in the church. Despite all the evidence against the clergy, Attorney General Peterson says his office can't pursue criminal charges against any of the living abusers. That's because the statute of limitations has expired.

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PETERSON: The thing that's difficult and frustrating for us is that we've not been able to bring our own justice system to bear on those predators, and that's extremely frustrating.

BAUER: Extending the statute of limitations would need to be initiated by state lawmakers. And that's an uphill battle. But Peterson says victims could look into opening civil litigation on their own. For NPR News, I'm Will Bauer in Lincoln, Neb.

(SOUNDBITE OF PSALM TREES AND MOOSE DAWA FEAT. ANDRAS SZILAGYI'S "NO LIES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.