Federal prosecutors open clergy abuse probe in Pennsylvania
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Federal prosecutors have opened an investigation of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania, using subpoenas to demand secret files and testimony from high-ranking leaders in what victims’ advocates say is the first such probe ever launched by the U.S. Justice Department.
The subpoenas, served last week, follow a scathing state grand jury report over the summer that found that 301 “predator priests” in Pennsylvania had molested more than 1,000 children over seven decades and that church leaders had covered up for the offenders.
The intervention by the federal government opens a new front of legal peril for the Catholic church, given that investigations into sexual abuse by clergy members have historically been handled exclusively by state and local authorities.
“It’s groundbreaking if we’re going to see one of the U.S. attorneys pursuing the Catholic cases,” said Marci Hamilton, a University of Pennsylvania professor and chief executive of Child USA, a nonprofit think tank focused on preventing child abuse. “The federal government has so far been utterly silent on the Catholic cases.”
At least seven of the state’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses — Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Erie, Greensburg, Allentown and Harrisburg — acknowledged receiving subpoenas and said they would cooperate or were working with Justice Department officials.
There was no indication the Justice Department is planning a nationwide investigation.