Reckoning over allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church reaches Alaska

PHOTO: The Archdiocese of Anchorage in Alaska. PlayGoogle
WATCH Victims speak out in US Catholic sexual abuse scandal

The Alaska Department of Law will assist in an investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct reported to the Archdiocese of Anchorage, ABC News has learned.

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On Wednesday, Archbishop Paul Etienne announced the formation of an independent commission comprised of former law enforcement officials “to review all personnel files of clerics and religious men and women” who have served the archdiocese since its formation in 1966.

The commission is expected to deliver a report on its findings, identifying individuals who have either had credible allegations made against them or have failed to report credible allegations made against others.

“Archbishop Etienne apologizes to anyone who has been harmed by someone representing the Catholic Church and encourages those harmed to report their experience directly to their local law enforcement,” reads a statement released with the announcement. “With this review Archbishop Etienne seeks to open pathways of justice and healing for all who were abused and for the people of the Archdiocese of Anchorage.”

When reached for comment, the office of Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth issued a statement praising the formation of the commission and confirming that its office will participate in the investigation, joining a growing number of states engaged in what collectively amounts to a massive probe of the church and its policies governing sexual misconduct.

“The Alaska Department of Law is aware that the Archdiocese of Anchorage announced today the formation of an Independent Commission to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct by its lay volunteers and employees,” the statement reads. “The members of the commission are highly qualified and have extensive experience in law enforcement and the Alaska criminal justice system. The Department of Law has agreed to work with the Archdiocese of Anchorage and the commission during this process.”

Allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Alaska have made headlines several times since reporters from The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team first brought the issue the Catholic Church’s mishandling of sexual misconduct to national attention. In 2003, a parish priest was reportedly exposed for sexually abusing young men over several years in Anchorage. Several years later, nearly 300 abuse victims reportedly filed claims in bankruptcy court against the Diocese of Fairbanks.

The Diocese of Fairbanks, however, does not fall under the jurisdiction of the newly appointed independent commission.

The widening scandal, described by one observer as “The Catholic Church’s biggest crisis since the Reformation,” has shaken the church hierarchy around the world and prompted calls from some critics for the resignation of Pope Francis.

Alaska’s effort makes the state the 15th jurisdiction to reportedly launch an investigation of clerical sex abuse following the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing the coverup of decades of abuse by hundreds of Catholic priests.

Probes have already been launched by officials in Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia, with officials in several other states telling ABC News their offices were reviewing their options and considering taking similar action.

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