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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - The federal government has issued subpoenas to multiple Pennsylvania dioceses in a criminal probe into sex abuse cover-up. The subpoenas were served last week, but news of the investigation only broke Thursday.
So far, seven out of eight Pennsylvania dioceses — Erie, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Pittsburgh and Greensburg — have confirmed they have received subpoenas, some stating they will cooperate with the investigation. Two Eastern Catholic dioceses are also being investigated: the Byzantine Archeparchy of Pittsburgh and the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparhcy of Philadelphia.
The investigation is being spearheaded by U.S. Attorney General William McSwain, who is asking clergy to testify before a grand jury in Philadelphia with regard to possible federal crimes. Bishops are being asked to turn over documents stored in their secret archives, which contain information about clergy misconduct including sex abuse. Bishops are also being asked to hand over evidence of: priests transporting children across state lines for illegal purposes, priests sending or receiving sexual imagery on their phones or computers, clergy being told not to contact law enforcement, predator priests being reassigned; or money being used for illegal purposes.
Mitchell Garabedian, the famous Boston lawyer who helped expose the sex abuse scandal in 2002, expressed surprise by the subpoenas.
"This is the first time I have ever heard of a federal investigation into child sexual abuse in a Catholic diocese or church," he said. "This is a monumental moment for clergy sexual victims everywhere."
After Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro published the bombshell grand jury report in mid-August, Shapiro explained that he had received phone calls from the Department of Justice.
In an interview with The New York Times, Shapiro was asked about the possibility of a federal probe into sex abuse cover-up in the Church. Shapiro said, "I have spoken to a representative of the Department of Justice. Beyond that, I do not think it would be prudent for me to comment."
I have heard from several attorneys general of both parties, from really across the country, trying to understand how we conducted our investigation, asking in some cases general — and in some cases very specific — questions about either the broad structure of an investigation, or a specific priest who might now be within their state.
Church Militant in previous weeks had also confirmed with government sources that the Department of Justice was seriously contemplating a RICO investigation into the Church.
RICO is a federal law created in 1970 to combat organized crime. It enables prosecutors to go after a criminal organization, rather than simply individual members connected to it.
An online poll taken by Church Militant found 88 percent of Catholics wanted decisive action by the federal government, answering "yes" to the question whether the U.S. government should launch an investigation to see if Church leaders have violated RICO statutes in covering up and transporting sexually predatory priest for decades.
The Buffalo diocese in New York is also being investigated by the federal government.
The diocese issued a statement Thursday confirming the probe.
Several months ago, we received a call from the local U.S. Attorney's office with a request to review documents. A subpoena was provided and after some discussion, an agreement was reached to produce documents. We have heard nothing since early June. As far as we know, our response has nothing to do with the current Pennsylvania investigation that has just begun.
Church Militant has published a series of investigative reports on the Buffalo diocese involving current Bishop Richard Malone, accused of grossly underreporting the number of accused priests (he publicly claimed his diocese had 42 accused priests when the number was more than twice that) as well as placing notorious abuser Fr. Dennis Riter, accused of forcing a six-year-old into oral sex, back into active ministry.
Malone is also implicated in the possible murder of whistleblower priest Fr. Joseph Moreno, found dead in his rectory in 2012 only days before he was scheduled to visit the papal nuncio with a file exposing homosexual abuse and corruption in the diocese. A number of irregularities at the crime scene — including two bullet wounds to the back of his head, lack of gun powder residue or blood spatter, the near-impossibility of shooting himself with his left hand, which suffered irreparable nerve damage, video footage showing three black-hooded men running from the rectory, and items broken into or missing from his rectory — throw into serious doubt the official story that Moreno committed suicide.
*10/18/2018: This article was updated with new information about dioceses under investigation.