Attorney asks Archdiocese of St. Louis to release abuse victims from confidentiality agreements

ST. LOUIS - A St. Louis area attorney is asking Archbishop Robert Carlson to allow victims of clergy abuse to come forward as part of a statewide investigation. And she has the support of Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.

Following the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which identified more than 300 priests accused of abusing more than one thousand children, Hawley announced he would launch his own local investigation.

Nicole Gorovsky represents several survivors of clergy abuse and says some of her clients want to take part in the Hawley's investigation but they are afraid to come forward with their stories for fear of retribution from the archdiocese.

Last week, Gorovsky sent letters to Hawley and Carlson. To Hawley, she asked for a law enforcement-driven investigation rather than one dictated by the archdiocese. To Carlson, Gorovsky asked that he release victims and attorneys bound by confidentiality agreements so they may participate in Hawley's investigation.

"Attorney General Hawley won't even know what he's missing if those people are not allowed to speak at all," Gorovsky said.

Neither Hawley nor Carlson responded to Gorovsky's letters, so Fox 2/KPLR 11 started asking questions. Hawley said he supports Gorovsky's request of the archdiocese.

"I welcome the cooperation of the dioceses," Hawley said. "They've said they want to cooperate fully and I welcome that, but I also want to be clear that we have started this investigation, and we are going to finish it, and we are going to get the facts."

While Hawley's office cannot prosecute these cases, he’s encouraged local prosecutors to take action.

"I hope that some of the local prosecutors who have access to grand juries and subpoenas, I hope they'll use those," he said. "I hope they will actually take some action here."

A spokesperson with the archdiocese sent Fox 2/KPLR 11 the following statement in response to Gorovsky's letter:

"It should be noted that under the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop's Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which has been in place since 2002, 'Dioceses/eparchies are not to enter into settlements which bind the parties to confidentiality, unless the victim/survivor requests confidentiality and this request is noted in the text of the agreement (ARTICLE 3).' If requested by the victim, these confidentiality agreements post-2002 would apply to our ability to speak, not to the victim."

Gorovsky said she would like all victims, regardless of when the confidentiality agreement was initiated, to have the opportunity to come forward with their experiences.

Carlson promised Hawley's office "unfettered access" to the archdiocese's files of accused clergy members, but Gorovsky said that without the survivors' testimonies, Hawley would only get part of the story.

"The archbishop rests comfortably knowing that the only thing Attorney General Josh Hawley is going to see is what he provides, but if he releases these gag orders, then he will have victims, survivors and attorneys coming forward to tell what they know, and that makes it a much more fair investigation," she said.

Hawley said his office met with the four Catholic dioceses in Missouri and is inspecting records in each location.