DOJ Seriously Considers RICO Prosecution of Catholic Church

by David Nussman  •  •  August 29, 2018   

Pennsylvania AG says feds considering national investigation in wake of explosive state grand jury report

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WASHINGTON ( - Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro suggested that there could be a federal investigation of the Catholic Church for covering up clerical sex abuse.

Shapiro oversaw the production of the recent bombshell report from the Pennsylvania grand jury, which listed accusations against 301 Catholic clergy of sexually abusing an estimated 1,000 children across six dioceses.

The New York Times published an interview with Shapiro on Monday. The interviewer leaned in on Shapiro about the possibility of a federal investigation of Catholic leaders' cover-up of sexually abusive priests.

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."

Questioned further, Shapiro confirmed that the Justice Department's representative came to him after the release of the grand jury report and that their conversation was "related to the release of our report."

Church Militant was able to independently confirm that the Department of Justice is taking great interest in the possibility of a nationwide investigation into allegations of Catholic clerical sex abuse.


In the aftermath of the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, there was talk about the possibility of prosecuting the Catholic Church under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

RICO is a federal law created in 1970 to combat organized crime. It enables prosecutors to go after a criminal organization in and of itself, rather than targeting the specific crimes of individuals connected to it.

Some say the Church leaders who covered up abusive priests were acting like Mafia bosses, but others pointed out that it would be hard to prosecute the Catholic hierarchy under RICO because of specific details in how the law is written. For instance, sex abuse is not listed among the offenses that an organization must be connected with to be prosecuted under RICO.

In the same interview, Shapiro said he had spoken with other states' attorneys general about the grand jury report, and some of them were interested in doing something similar in their own states:

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.

Already, there are signs that attorneys general in states like New York, Illinois and Nebraska may be launching their own investigations into allegations of Catholic clerical sexual abuse and coverups by Church officials.

In New York, a spokesperson for Attorney General Barbara Underwood said that Underwood "has directed her Criminal Division leadership to reach out to local District Attorneys — the only entities that currently have the power to convene a grand jury to investigate these matters — in order to establish a potential partnership on this issue."

In Illinois, Attorney General Lisa Madigan said her office was launching an investigation into the archdiocese of Chicago — which is headed by Cdl. Blase Cupich, whom Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò's groundbreaking testimony mentioned by name. Madigan explained that several priests mentioned in the Pennsylvania report as alleged sex abusers were shipped off to Chicago when the allegations came forward.

In Nebraska, several alleged male victims of Catholic clerical sex abuse came forward to local media, saying they were interviewed recently by the state attorney general's office. The attorney general could neither confirm nor deny these claims, according to policy.


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