PHILADELPHIA (CN) – The U.S. Justice Deparment has opened an investigation into Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania accused of covering up sex abuse — in some cases, for several decades.
The inquiry comes two months after the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office released a grand jury report charging that bishops and other church leaders had covered up the abuse of more than 1,000 people over the past seven decades.
Seven of the eight dioceses in the state, Philadelphia, Erie, Harrisburg, Scranton, Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Allentown have released statemetns confirming they’ve received federal grand jury subpoenas from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania requesting documents.
The eighth, Altoona-Johnstown, did not respond to an email requesting comment from Courthouse News.
“The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has received a subpoena issued by a federal grand jury, which requires the production of certain documents,” a statement from the archdiocese of Philadelphia reads. “The Archdiocese will cooperate with the United States Department of Justice in this matter.”
The nearly 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.
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. Many other priests are dead, according to the Associated Press, which first reported on the matter.
Earlier this week, former Diocese of Erie Catholic priest David Poulson pleaded guilty to two charges for repeatedly sexually assaulting one boy and attempting to assault another. And on October 12, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., who was faulted in the grand jury report for his record of handling cases of sexual abuse when he was bishop of Pittsburgh.
Though the pontiff accepted Wuerl’s resignation, he also took steps to stand by the bishop.
“You have sufficient elements to ‘justify’ your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes. However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you,” the pope said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the federal subpoenas.