Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said this week he would not investigate allegations of sex abuse within the Roman Catholic Church at parishes within the state’s borders, blasting critics who pushed back on that decision and comparing them to the Ku Klux Klan.
The comments were made in the wake of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania, which identified more than 1,000 children who had been allegedly abused by hundreds of priests over a span of decades.
While other states have since followed Pennsylvania’s lead and begun examining accusations of child sex abuse within their own borders, Landry has eschewed such efforts in Louisiana, foisting the burden on local authorities.
In a statement last week, Landry explained that while he was sympathetic to the victims, according to his interpretation of the law, he had no authority to lead a statewide investigation.
“As a practicing Catholic, I wholeheartedly support efforts to root out pedophile priests and end the horrific misconduct by Church authorities,” he said. “Those who sexually abused children and those who covered up their despicable acts should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The local paper, The Times Picayune later reported those comments, noting Landry had other options outside of a statewide probe. It specifically referenced an investigation in Missouri, where Attorney General Josh Hawley announced, in the wake of the grand jury report, that he would initiate an inquiry similar to the one in Pennsylvania. His office faces the same kind of limitations under the law as Landry’s, but he said his office will release a public report and refer any criminal violations back to local prosecutors.
The Times Picayune quoted several people chastising Landry for not pursuing these alternative approaches. The paper also noted Landry had overstepped his authority before, operating a special crime task force in New Orleans that led to at least 16 arrests, against a federal judge’s order.
In the wake of that report, Landry issued another statement, saying he was “deeply offended” by the paper’s “false insinuations.”
“The headline and entire tone of the story smacked of blatant, religious bigotry,” he said. “As a father and a Catholic, I am deeply offended. This article by the Times Picayune is pure unadulterated religious bigotry which we have not seen in this State since the hey-day of the Ku Klux Klan.”
The Pennsylvania grand jury report, released last month, identified more than 1,000 children who suffered abuse at the hands of more than 300 “predator priests,” sparking outrage and calls for investigation into parishes elsewhere. The website Bishop Accountability, for instance, has already identified 78 priests from Louisiana who have been accused of sexual abuse in recent decades, none of whom will be investigated by Landry’s office.
Attorneys general in Illinois, Nebraska, New Mexico, New Jersey, and New York have announced they will undertake investigations similar to the one being conducted in Missouri, navigating limitations on their offices’ power as necessary. Others have taken Landry’s approach of claiming their hands are tied, but have said they will pursue conversations with church officials when full investigations are not possible.