AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thursday, Catholic churches across Texas released names of clergy credibly accused of child sex abuse. State law constrains the Texas Attorney General from launching an investigation, as Pennsylvania’s attorney general did.
Several state lawmakers now want to give the Texas Attorney General the power to investigate those crimes without being called upon by a district attorney.
“If our state’s head law enforcement officer does not have the authority to investigate these crimes, I would support legislation that gives the Texas Attorney General the authority that he or she needs to protect Texas children and shine light on institutional cover-ups of such heinous, illegal activity,” said Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin.
“Of course the state should investigate any crimes committed against children or anyone else, for that matter,” said Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, “Priests and other religious leaders are not exempt from the law and no institution should get away with hiding criminal activities.”
“I haven’t spoken with the AG’s office about this particularly reviling aspect of sexual assault,” said Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, “But I would be open to exploring the issue of concurrent jurisdiction if it was determined that this was the best path forward to bringing justice to these victims.”
While the Attorney General is constrained by Texas law to launch an investigation on his own, Friday the Office of the Attorney General sent letters to local district attorneys saying they are ready to help when asked.
“My office stands ready to provide whatever assistance local investigators and prosecutors may need in accordance with state law,” Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote, “I am committed to helping provide safe communities for Texas children and communities of faith alike.”
On Saturday, Paxton’s office issued a statement that the AG’s office would provide assistance to districts and county attorneys in Texas as the process of investigating the accused clergy begins.
“My office stands ready to provide whatever assistance local investigators and prosecutors may need in accordance with state law. I am committed to helping provide safe communities for Texas children and communities of faith alike.” Attorney General Paxton said. “Protecting the most vulnerable among us, especially our children, is our top priority. No one should live in fear of abuse, especially when they believe they are in the hands of their church family,” said Paxton.
KXAN reached out to the three most influential people in state government – Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen – and has not yet heard back.
Neither have other central Texas lawmakers responded to KXAN: Austin Democrats Kirk Watson, Gina Hinojosa, Vikki Goodwin, Sheryl Cole, John Bucy III, and Erin Zweiner, and central Texas Republicans Charles Schwertner, Donna Campbell, Terry Wilson, and John Cyrier.
A bill to give the Attorney General primary or concurrent jurisdiction – the ability to launch investigations without a local request – has yet to be filed.