AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — Despite the Texas Attorney General’s office saying it cannot launch an investigation into clergy sexual abuse on its own — the public, accusers and even law enforcement are still reaching out asking the state’s top attorney to step in.
A public information request filed by KXAN revealed a dozen people have reached out since January 31, 2019, the day most of the dioceses across Texas released lists of priests credibly accused of abuse.
One of the letters came from Juleanna Culilap, an 18-year-old who is currently a freshman at the University of Texas in Austin. Last year, while she was a high school senior in Frisco, she wrote Attorney General Ken Paxton.
One of the most powerful lines came at the end: “…children and victims of abuse deserve to see the government put effort into holding their perpetrators accountable.”
Her AP government teacher had challenged the class to pick an issue they were passionate about changing, and write a letter expressing their viewpoint to a political leader. Culilap is Catholic, and has been going to church her entire life. She was taken aback by the claims of priest abuse surfacing across the country and in her home state. As she researched the issue further, Culilap came across stories about attorney generals in other states stepping in to investigate and seek justice for the accusers.
“A lot of other states were taking their own action against it, so why couldn’t Texas?” Culilap said.
Call notes obtained by KXAN revealed five people called the AG’s office in 2019 to report they were sexually abused by clergy. In one case, the accuser said they did not trust the church to properly investigate. In those cases, the person answering the phone suggested they call local law enforcement or a national group like RAINN — the Rape, Abuse and National Network that runs a 24/7 hotline to help victims of sexual assault.
Several calls to the AG’s office were made by a detective with a North Texas police department, who kept reaching out and asking for the AG’s help with local priest abuse cases involving children. The AG’s response: we cannot step in until the district attorney’s office requests our assistance.
According to notes from July 2019 released by the AG’s office, assistant AG Gabrielle Massey was looking through documents regarding the “Catholic priests investigations” to come up with a list of potential cases in each jurisdiction.
KXAN has repeatedly asked at various times throughout the last year if the attorney general was looking into anything priest-related. A communications person said it’s the department’s policy to neither confirm nor deny any investigations are happening.
Culilap received a call back from the AG’s office after it received her letter. Someone left a voicemail telling her “thank you,” and explained what has to happen for the AG to intervene.
“There’s so much hidden behind closed doors,” Culilap said. “And even if [the Catholic church] is trying to be a little bit more transparent, it’s still important for a more concrete organization like the government to step in, especially when it’s children that are being victimized or abused.”