Justice Dept. opens probe into child sex abuse in Pennsylvania clergy


The Department of Justice has launched an investigation of child sex abuse within Pennsylvania's Roman Catholic Church, sending subpoenas to dioceses across the state seeking private files and records to explore the possibility that priests and bishops violated federal law in cases that go back decades, NPR has learned.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia also confirmed to Religion News Service that it is aware of the inquiry and is cooperating with investigators - including handing over documents.

"As we did in the Poulson prosecution, we will continue to bring all reports of sexual misconduct with minors to the immediate attention of law enforcement, and fully cooperate with them during their investigation".

A law professor warned it is premature to assume a Justice Department investigation will necessarily reach higher up the church hierarchy than earlier probes or end with more serious charges.

Dioceses across California and the US are disclosing names as part of an effort by church leaders to reassure parishioners following a stunning August report by Pennsylvania authorities.

The opening of an investigation comes after a Pennsylvania state grand jury released a report in August showing that over 1,000 children had been sexually abused by more than 300 priests of the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania.

A representative for McSwain declined to comment, as did a Justice Department spokesperson.

Senior church officials, including bishops, monsignors and others, knew about the abuse committed by priests, but covered it up to avoid scandal, criminal charges against priests and monetary damages to the dioceses.

A Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing two boys and having one confess afterward is scheduled to appear in a western Pennsylvania courtroom for what is described as a plea hearing.

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"Many hearts have been broken, particularly those of the victims and their loved ones", he said in a statement.

The findings of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury were released in a comprehensive 884-page report in August.

One issue, experts say, is that there has been no comprehensive and independent measurement of the full scope of sexual abuse in the church in the United States.

The report also led to the resignation last week of Cardinal Donald Wuerl as archbishop of Washington.

Separate from the Pennsylvania investigation, the Diocese of Buffalo said in a statement Thursday night that it was contacted months ago by prosecutors there with a request to review documents. He was accused of helping to protect some child-molesting priests when he was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006.

There's no evidence the two investigations are related.

"Maybe there is more to come, but it looks like they are beginning by looking for actual acts of abuse of minors and not yet on the institutional side of things - at least so far".

Federal government lawyers, called prosecutors, are now taking action.

Lynn became the first US church official ever prosecuted for the alleged cover-up of child molestation by priests when he was arrested on child-endangerment charges. On Wednesday night, the state Senate adjourned without voting on a measure, prompted by the grand jury report, that would create a brief window for victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue their abusers, and institutions that may have shielded them, even after the civil statute of limitations had passed. He is awaiting a third trial.