PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, October 17, 2018 (1P5) – The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that the U.S. Justice Department has initiated an investigation into the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. U.S. attorney William McSwain issued and served subpoenas throughout the state of Pennsylvania last week, pursuant to a grand jury report that included cases in which 301 “predator priests” were accused of sexually abusing over 1,000 minors over a span of seven decades.
While state borders may constrict state attorneys general, the newest move by the Justice Department indicates that federal investigators believe that the gravity and nature of the crimes warrant its full investigative resources.
In comments to the AP, Marci Hamilton, a University of Pennsylvania professor and chief executive of Child USA, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing child abuse, called the investigation by a U.S. attorney’s office “groundbreaking.” “The federal government has so far been utterly silent on the Catholic cases,” she said.
Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s personal involvement in the establishment and financial management of the organization known as the Papal Foundation has come under scrutiny since accusations came to light earlier this summer concerning his alleged abuse of minors – especially in light of his extensive travels to countries in Asia, where child sex-trafficking is common. As the Pennsylvania investigation revealed another name associated with the Papal Foundation, that of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, calls for a federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) investigation into financial corruption began in earnest. RICO legislation was originally intended to prosecute the Mafia, but its use has since expanded to cover additional criminal organizations. According to legal experts who spoke with the AP, “if federal prosecutors can show that church leaders systematically covered up for child-molesting priests in the past five years,” a RICO investigation not out of the question.
While the Justice Department’s investigation into the clerical abuse crisis remains focused, for the time being, on Pennsylvania, it is unknown whether the involvement of the federal government will expand to other states.
The AP reports that McSwain has “demanded the bishops turn over any evidence that anyone in their ranks took children across state lines for illicit purposes; sent sexual images or messages via phone or computer; instructed anyone not to contact police; reassigned suspected predators; or used money or other assets as part of the scandal.” In addition, sources speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity report that “[t]he grand jury subpoenas also seek documents stored in ‘Secret Archives,’ ‘Historical Archives’ or ‘Confidential Files,’ and records related to the dioceses’ organizational charts, finances, insurance coverage, clergy assignments and treatment of priests.”
Meanwhile, despite the acceptance of his resignation by Pope Francis last week, Cardinal Wuerl has been allowed to remain as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese of Washington, D.C. – as well as keep his roles in the Congregation for Bishops and as an influential member of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops. The pope praised Cardinal Wuerl, stating he had “sufficient elements to ‘justify’” his actions “and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes.” “However,” the pope continued, “your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you.”
Concerning a possible RICO investigation by the federal government, a former U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania, David Hickton, is quoted by AP: “If you were going to file a criminal RICO or a civil RICO, the decision is how much of the leadership do you have to capture? The bishops themselves are captains of ships, but the admiral is the pope.”