In November 2021, Nebraska’s attorney general’s office released a report about clergy sexual abuse in the state’s Catholic dioceses. The report details 258 cases of sexual abuse by clergy members in Nebraska. A product of a three-year investigation, the report identifies 57 abusers. Yet, none of the accused will face prosecution due to the state’s statute of limitations.
“The most troubling finding from the report is the fact that on numerous occasions when there was an opportunity to bring justice to the victims, those in authority chose to place the reputation of the church above the protection of the children.”
Nebraska Clergy Abuse Report
According to the Nebraska clergy abuse report, most of the 258 clergy abuse cases took place several decades ago. Almost 180 of the alleged abuse incidents began during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The earliest reported incident occurred in the 1930s.
All three of Nebraska’s Catholic dioceses were named in abuse allegations documented in the report. The report identified 158 victims from the Archdiocese of Omaha, 97 victims from the Diocese of Lincoln and three victims from the Diocese of Grand Island.
“The depth of physical and psychological harm caused by the perpetrators, and the decades of failure by the church to safeguard so many child victims, is unfathomable.”
Some of the key findings in the report include:
- 91% of the victims were male.
- 60% of the victims were minors at the time of the abuse.
- 82 victims were 11 to 13 years old at the time of the abuse.
The report includes the names of the alleged abusers, living and deceased, whom investigators probed. Most of the named abusers were priests. However, the report also identified four deacons and two Catholic school teachers accused of abuse.
Abuse survivors’ accounts—some graphic—appear in the report along with when and how they reported the abuse. The report findings suggest many church officials covered up abuse allegations reported by victims. Investigators discovered instances where diocesan officials did not take responsible action after receiving allegations of abuse.
After the report’s release, the three dioceses’ bishops publicly apologized to the survivors for the abuse they suffered.
Nebraska Clergy Abuse Investigation
In August 2018, Peterson’s office began its priest abuse investigation. Many other states, including Colorado, have conducted similar investigations.
Investigators began by collecting sexual abuse reports through two hotlines. Survivors could report abuse by individuals in positions of authority from any organization. However, the majority of the 120 hotline calls implicated clergy members of the Catholic Church.
Investigators then requested documents from the three Catholic dioceses in Nebraska. By February 2019, Peterson’s office issued 426 subpoenas for the requested information.
To compile the 182-page report, investigators examined:
- More than 30,000 pages of documents
- Files relating to more than 200 clergy members
- 12 hours of recorded interviews with survivors
Report Prompts Conversation About Legal Statutes
Despite extensive evidence compiled in the report, none of the 57 alleged abusers will face prosecution. In all but one case, the criminal statute of limitations has passed. The survivor in the eligible case chose not to pursue charges.
“The thing that’s difficult and frustrating for us is that we’ve not been able to bring our own justice system to bear on those predators,” Peterson said.
Although most of the Nebraska clergy abuse cases have expired, Peterson noted some survivors may be eligible to file civil priest abuse lawsuits.
The Nebraska clergy abuse report has brought renewed interest in expanding the state’s statutes of limitations. Peterson supports legislative change to address this issue.
“The reality that we are unable to prosecute the offenders because of the perpetrator’s death, or as a result of the barrier created by the statute of limitations is beyond frustrating.”
As of early December, Senator Rich Pahls of Omaha plans to introduce a sexual abuse bill in response to the attorney general’s report. Lawmakers in many states across the country have taken similar legislative action.
In California, Colorado and Louisiana, lawmakers opened retroactive “look back” windows to revive old cases of child sexual abuse. In Maine and Vermont, lawmakers eliminated the state’s civil statute of limitations for past and future cases of child sex abuse.
Time will tell if Nebraska clergy abuse survivors see similar legislation and justice.
Bauer, W. (2021, November 4). Catholic Church Clergy Abused at Least 258 Nebraska Victims, AG Reports Says. Nebraska Public Media.
Greve, N. (2021, December 10). State senator plans sex abuse bill. KLKN.
Office of the Nebraska Attorney General. (2021). Report on Clergy Sexual Abuse [PDF].
Salter, P. (2021, November 4). Nebraska clergy sex abuse report: 258 victims, 57 predators, no prosecutions. Lincoln Journal Star.