DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - The federal government is ordering every U.S. bishop to preserve documents related to clerical sex abuse. The move signals the possibility of a much wider federal criminal probe into the Catholic Church than is currently taking place.
A seven-page letter sent Oct. 9 by U.S. Attorney William McSwain to Cdl. Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, requests the "officers, directors, employees, agents, and representatives" of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) "to preserve the documents described in the enclosure to this letter."
The enclosure refers, among other things, to all evidence kept in diocesan "secret archives," reserved for allegations of clerical misconduct, including sex abuse.
"I request that these documents be preserved in their current form and condition, and not be destroyed, discarded, disposed of, deleted, or altered in any way," McSwain writes.
According to Vatican blogger Rocco Palmo, the letter was distributed to all the bishops on Tuesday, "and has duly spread since among internal counsels and personnel-chiefs across the Stateside church's 198 jurisdictions."
In a statement issued Friday, Anthony Picarello, Jr., attorney to the USCCB, said, "We have transmitted the U.S. attorney's letter (to our staff) at his request, and in the spirit of cooperation with law enforcement." Picarello clarified that the USCCB "lacks the authority" to enforce McSwain's request regarding individual bishops.
Last week news broke that the federal government was investigating multiple Pennsylvania dioceses for clerical abuse and cover-up. The diocese of Buffalo, New York also confirmed it was under federal investigation.
The federal probe follows the launch of multiple state investigations into the Catholic Church, prompted by the publication of the 884-page Pennsylvania grand jury report in mid-August, which revealed 301 alleged predator priests in six dioceses.
The publication of the grand jury report led to the resignation of Cdl. Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., revealed to have protected homosexual predators while bishop of Pittsburgh — in one case even paying hush money to buy the silence of a priest involved in a sadomasochistic child porn ring. According to a source in attendance at the Aug. 14 press conference announcing publication of the grand jury report, PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Wuerl was "the dirtiest" among the Pennsylvania bishops.
Shapiro confirmed in the days following publication of the report that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had reached out to him with questions. Government sources confirmed with Church Militant that the DOJ was seriously considering the possibility of a RICO prosecution of the Catholic Church. McSwain's Oct. 9 letter to the U.S. bishops further signals a move in that direction, based on whatever evidence is gathered in the preliminary investigation.
Virginia and the District of Columbia are the latest to join the string of states looking into potential crimes committed by Catholic clergy with regard to sex abuse.