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Washington state sues Seattle Archdiocese over child sex abuse investigation records

caption: Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
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Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Washington state is suing the Archdiocese of Seattle in an effort to compel the institution to turn over documents related to sexual abuse allegations against its clergy, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Thursday morning.

Ferguson said his office has been investigating child sexual abuse allegations made against Catholic Church clergy across Washington state dating back multiple decades, including in Spokane and Yakima.

“We have sent subpoenas to all three Washington far all three refuse to cooperate,” Ferguson said during a press conference.

He added that it's unusual for his office to have to ask a judge to force an entity under its investigation to turn over documents.

"The church has more information than is shared with the public," Ferguson said. "It has released names, but has not released its files on these abusive priests. No one has read files. The purpose of our investigation is to uncover whether the church has misused charitable trust funds to cover up systemic sexual abuse and shield abuse of priests."

The Seattle Archdiocese has answered to multiple child sexual abuse claims, paying tens of millions of dollars to settle allegations involving hundreds of victims. In 2016, the Seattle Archdiocese released the names of 77 Catholic clergy or religious order members accused of sexually abusing children. Those on the list served or lived in Western Washington between 1923 and 2008.

RELATED: Seattle Archdiocese names priests who abused kids

In an email to KUOW, the Seattle Archdiocese denied Ferguson's claim that it hasn't cooperated with his office's investigation, and said in a written statement shared on its website, "We have been collaborating with the Attorney General’s Office for the past 10 months to demonstrate how the Archdiocese of Seattle has handled allegations of sexual abuse and how we are protecting children."

The statement continues, "Sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by Church personnel peaked in 1975. We have no reports of sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult by clergy having occurred since 2007...99% of reported incidents of abuse occurred prior to 1995."

Tim Law, a co-founder of the Washington-based Catholic Accountability Project, told KUOW it's been an uphill battle to get the details of these sexual abuse investigations from both the Seattle Archdiocese and the Attorney General's Office.

“We're getting as much secrecy on we've been getting from the church all these years,” he said. “Give us some confidence, assure us that you're getting the records.”

Ferguson said during the press conference that it's his office's policy not to share the details of its investigations with the public.

"Part of the reason why I have that policy — and the policy predates my time as attorney general — is to allow an entity that we're investigating to give us documents and have that conversation outside [of] a public conversation," he said.

Law said he wants to see the Attorney General's Office also go after documents sent to the Vatican that involve internal child sex abuse investigations.

RELATED: Seattle Archdiocese to pay $3 million to settle multiple sex abuse cases

Ferguson's lawsuit was filed in the King County Superior Court and a first hearing has been scheduled for May 22.

While Ferguson has not taken legal action against the Archdiocese of Spokane or Yakima, he said lawsuits against the two institutions aren't off the table.

Ferguson is urging any survivors or loved ones of survivors to come forward by calling 833-952-6277.

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