US opens investigation into child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania

US opens investigation into child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania

US opens investigation into child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania

According to a release from the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, issued in May when the charges against Poulson were announced, the charges were "recommended by a statewide investigating grand jury, which found that Poulson sexually assaulted the boys while employed in active ministry as a priest by the Erie diocese".

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. CBS News has learned the US attorney in Buffalo, New York, has also served the diocese there.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia confirmed on its website Thursday that it had "received a subpoena issued by a federal grand jury, which requires the production of certain documents".

Now federal prosecutors are bringing the Justice Department's considerable resources to bear, according to two people who were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Most of the complaints were decades old, and because of the statute of limitations, only two priests were charged as a result of the investigation.

The Washington Post reported that the Allentown diocese confirmed it has received federal subpoenas and is cooperating.

The Department of Justice declined to comment, saying the agency generally does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations.

Child USA's Hamilton, for one, said she thinks using federal RICO as a weapon against the church would be a stretch, since the 1970 law is not created to deal with problems such as sex abuse and other personal injury cases. The report accused 301 priests in Pennsylvania of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children over 70 years.

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.

The report also criticised Washington DC Archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl, formerly of the Pittsburgh diocese, for his role in concealing the abuse.

The almost 900-page Pennsylvania grand jury report found that church leaders had engaged in a systematic cover-up by shuffling accused priests around to different parishes and in some cases working to prevent police investigations. Every bishop, priest, deacon, employee, and volunteer, who have contact with children in any capacity, must undergo a background check and triennial training on how to prevent, recognize and report the sexual abuse of children. More than 100 of the priests are dead, and many others are retired or have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave.

Until the Pennsylvania report, investigations by grand juries and attorneys general looked only at single dioceses or counties. "The church protected the institution at all costs", Shapiro said when the report was released in August. Many accused priests have already died. It found that church leaders systematically hid evidence of wrongdoing. Lawmakers ended the session Wednesday without taking action.

In 2011, the Philadelphia district attorney's office brought a landmark cover-up case against Monsignor William Lynn, a longtime aide to two Philadelphia cardinals. The orders were presented to church officials last week, the AP says. He is awaiting a third trial.

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