by Denise Lavoie
RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia’s attorney general announced Wednesday that he is investigating possible sexual abuse by clergy, joining officials from around the country who have taken action since an explosive grand jury report documented decades of abuse by priests in Pennsylvania.
Attorney General Mark Herring said his office and state police are looking into whether sexual abuse of children took place in Virginia and whether any church officials may have covered up or “abetted any such crimes.”
In the Pennsylvania report, released in August, the grand jury alleged that more than 300 Roman Catholic priests had abused at least 1,000 children over the past seven decades in six dioceses. It also alleged that senior church officials had systematically covered up allegations of abuse.
“It made me sick to see the extent of the damage done, the efforts to cover it up, and the complicity and enabling that went on by powerful people who should have known better and should have done more to protect vulnerable children,” Herring said in a statement.
Herring has set up a hotline and an online reporting form for any victims to report abuse.
The Pennsylvania report also has spurred investigations by officials in Maryland, New York, New Jersey and other states.
Virginia’s two Roman Catholic Dioceses — based in Richmond and Arlington — released a joint statement Wednesday saying they are cooperating with Herring’s office.
“Any instance of child sexual abuse is intolerable and gravely immoral,” the statement said.
“We hope that this process will bring healing for all victims and confirm our commitment to accountability and justice.”
Both dioceses said that before being contacted by Herring, they began internal investigations using independent investigators tasked with reviewing clergy personnel files. Both said they plan to publish a list of all priests and deacons against whom credible and substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor have been made.
Last month, the Diocese of Richmond announced that it had notified prosecutors of an allegation made by a man who said he was sexually abused by a priest in the 1970s while he was pastor at St. John’s Catholic Church in Highland Springs. The man was a minor at the time.
The diocese said the Rev. John P. Blankenship was removed from active priestly ministry in 2002 and dismissed from the priesthood in 2007.
Blankenship pleaded guilty in 2003 to sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy in 1982 while the boy and his mother went to the Church of the Sacred Heart in Prince George County to do housekeeping chores. Blankenship was given supervised probation and avoided a prison sentence.
The Diocese of Arlington, which covers 69 parishes in northern Virginia, on Tuesday said it had been informed a day earlier that a Massachusetts priest who also ministers in Virginia and Maryland has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation of alleged sexual misconduct with a minor in the 1970s.
An announcement from the Catholic Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, said the incident is alleged to have occurred in Manassas, Virginia, when Kuhn was approximately 18 years old, more than 20 years before he was ordained in 1997. The diocese said Kuhn denies the accusation.
Kuhn served as chaplain at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax from 2004 to 2008 and as assistant chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington from 2017 to the present.
After the clergy sex crisis exploded in Boston in 2002, U.S. bishops adopted widespread reforms, including stricter requirements for reporting allegations to law enforcement. The scandal has continued to unfold as abuse allegations have been reported in other dioceses around the country.