“The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them,” Pope Francis wrote in a letter to U.S. bishops about abuse over the years. “This has led to a growing sense of uncertainty, distrust and vulnerability among the faithful.”

In recent years, more has come to light about abuse from the past with the release of lists of priests who are accused of abusing children.

The Milwaukee Archdiocese released a list of alleged offenders in 2004; earlier this month, the Diocese of Green Bay released the names of 46 priests who committed sexual offenses against minors dating back more than 100 years. But many secrets remain to this day.

In light of the substantial number of abusers and victims around the state and nation, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm called earlier this month for a statewide investigation of the church’s response to abuse allegations.

Chisholm said in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel interview he would like to work with district attorneys around the state and newly elected Attorney General Josh Kaul to review all abuse allegations over the past 50 years. He said he would hope the state’s bishops would voluntarily open their files. If not, he said, he would be open to other mechanisms, such as a John Doe or grand jury proceeding.

He acknowledged “criminal prosecutions in most cases would be highly unlikely” because victims or perpetrators may have died or the statute of limitations has run out.

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“I still think there’s a value in looking at this systematically and assessing what happened, just to make sure it is transparent and there’s an honest accounting of it,” he told the Journal Sentinel.

We agree there is certainly still merit. It makes sense that an outside agency should investigate these serious crimes.

The Catholic Church has a shameful history of shielding pedophile priests, and of moving them to new parishes without disclosing the allegations against the pedophiles. There should be a reckoning, even if the pedophile priests are dead. Catholics should know if those who shielded the pedophiles are still active, and especially should know if they have moved up the church hierarchy and are thus in a position to further cover up or restrain such an investigation.

DA Chisholm is right to call for a statewide examination of the church’s abuse files. It’s something Kaul should also support, as well as other state officials.

We all deserve to know what has been hidden.

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