The Legal Examiner The Legal Examiner The Legal Examiner search feed instagram google-plus avvo phone envelope checkmark mail-reply spinner error close
Skip to main content
Joseph H. Saunders
| Saunders and Walker

Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign has gotten off to a rocky start with abuse survivors, the new California attorney general has signaled he will launch an investigation of all 12 Catholic dioceses in California.

According to Crux News, Joey Piscitelli was angry when Kamala Harris emerged as a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. It brought back the frustration he felt in the 2000s, when he was a newly minted spokesman for clergy sex abuse victims and Harris was San Francisco’s district attorney.

Piscitelli says Harris never responded to him when he wrote to tell her that a priest who had molested him was still in ministry at a local Catholic cathedral. And, he says, she didn’t reply five years later when he wrote again, urging her to release records on accused clergy to help other alleged victims who were filing lawsuits.

“She did nothing,” said Piscitelli, today the Northern California spokesman for SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Harris may have wanted to steer clear of alienating the large Catholic population in the Bay area and California at large by launching an inquiry into the church’s handling to priest abuse cases.  However, that doesn’t sit well with survivors or abuse advocates.

After Harris took office as DA in 2004, attorneys representing abuse survivors in civil cases asked her office to release church records on abusive priests that had been gathered by her predecessor, Terence Hallinan.

Harris refused, a decision her office said was intended to protect the identities of clergy abuse victims. “It would be virtually impossible to release records without compromising the identity of the victims,” two of her top aides said in a joint letter.

After Harris was elected California attorney general in 2010, she continued to avoid taking a stand on the Catholic Church’s abuse problem, according to Piscitelli and other advocates. They say that the state’s current attorney general, Xavier Becerra, has been more aggressive in dealing with the issue.

When Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released an explosive grand jury report in August 2018 finding that 300 priests had molested more than 1,000 victims over 70 years, Piscitelli and other SNAP members staged a protest outside Becerra’s office, demanding he take similar action.

The next day, Piscitelli said, Becerra’s office invited him and others at the protest to a meeting where district attorneys from across the state joined a conference call and listened as victims and advocates suggested avenues for inquiry.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra has put all California dioceses on notice that they will have to maintain documents and records related to their handling of priest abuse cases since 1996.  The request could be the first step toward a full investigation of California dioceses, which serve an estimated 10 million worshippers.

Harris, in the meantime, may have to answer difficult questions concerning her tenure as attorney general and why she didn’t do what AG Becerra is doing.

Comments are closed.