Alaska Catholic official orders sexual misconduct review

Catholic Archbishop Paul Etienne is shown Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, at his office in Anchorage, Alaska. Etienne said the Anchorage Archdiocese has ordered an independent review of sexual abuse claims by reviewing the files of priests and others associated with the archdiocese since it was established in 1966. (AP Photo/Rachel D'Oro)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Catholic archbishop of Alaska’s largest city announced Wednesday he has ordered an independent review of all sexual misconduct allegations involving priests and others associated with the church going back five decades.

Archbishop Paul Etienne appointed a three-member commission to review all personnel files since the Archdiocese of Anchorage was established in 1966. The panel also will review sexual misconduct allegations reported to the diocese to make sure they were correctly handled.

The review was prompted by concerns voiced by parishioners in response a lengthy Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August that listed the names of more than 300 priests and outlined the details of sexual abuse allegations, according to Etienne. People were saying that if such abuse was endemic in Pennsylvania, it must be true across the country.

“That’s why I’ve done this commission,” Etienne said. “I just want to lay this to rest.”

There have been no new allegations of sexual abuse of minors or adults made to the Anchorage archdiocese since the Pennsylvania report came out, Etienne said. He said any such complaints would be automatically referred to authorities.

The archdiocese did investigate “two or three” complaints made in the last couple of months involving accusations of inappropriate behavior toward adults by clergy, but those were found to be non-credible and non-actionable, Etienne said.

The commission’s review is expected to take up to nine months. The review is set to begin Oct. 31.

The commission, whose members include a former Anchorage police official, will submit names to Etienne for publication of those he says have been credibly accused. His goal, he said, is to consult with the Archdiocesan review board to publish the findings.

If the commission finds a sexual misconduct allegation of a criminal nature that was not previously reported, the panel will notify Etienne. He would in turn report the matter to authorities, according to a decree appointing the commissioners.

The Alaska Department of Law agreed to work with the commission and archdiocese during the review, department spokeswoman Cori Mills said in an email to The Associated Press.

“Please note that all criminal investigations are confidential and even the acknowledgment of a criminal investigation may hinder law enforcement’s ability to hold offenders accountable for their actions,” Mills wrote. “Because of the confidentiality of these matters, the Department of Law will not be able to provide any further information on the commission or its work.”

The archdiocese covers the state’s south-central region.

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