Anchorage Archdiocese gets proactive in dealing with potential sexual assault cases
The Catholic Church in Anchorage will review personnel files for the past half-century, according to a release on Wednesday.
Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne announced that an independent commission of legal and law enforcement experts will look into cases of sexual abuse in the church and how they were handled.
Etienne said the review is not the result of new victims coming forward in Alaska, but instead reflects what is happening in states like Pennsylvania, where a grand jury recently found the church had covered up hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse. Etienne said the commission’s review will be far ranging.
“I want there to be an independent review of all of our personnel clergy files, any other lay or volunteers or people who were associated with the church in any way who have had accusations made against them at any point in our history,” said Etienne. “We are just going to put it all there for their review.”
Etienne said the review would cover the Archdiocese of Anchorage, an area that includes most of southcentral Alaska as well as Kodiak and Valdez, and go back to the Archdiocese’s founding in 1966. He said he expects the commission to produce a report that includes the names of people they believe have credible accusations against them.
He plans to make the report, and the names public.
“I think that's one more step the church can take to give confidence to victims that we are being transparent,” he said. “But also to give confidence to those who have not yet come forward to finally do so.”
The group tapped to unearth these potential cases has an experienced and varied background: retired judge Michael Spaan, retired Anchorage Police Department Capt. Shirley Cote and former state prosecutor Rachel Gernat.
Spaan's legal career dates back decades, including an eight-year stint as U.S. Attorney during the 1980s. Cote had a 30-year career in law enforcement with APD and the Soldotna Police Department. Gernat prosecuted crimes against children and vulnerable adults.
The three will begin work at the end of October. It could take up to nine months before they are ready to issue their report.
Dave Goldman contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story included a misspelling of retired judge Michael Spaan's name. This has been corrected.
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