The U.S. Justice Department in October announced that it is undertaking an investigation into accusations of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania.
The Washington Post called the department's decision to launch the probe "noteworthy," pointing out that the federal government has been reluctant to wade into the long-simmering scandal.
According to The Post, the U.S. attorney's office in Philadelphia has issued a series of subpoenas to church officials. Reportedly, the subpoenas seek church records going back several years, including, as The Post reported "any evidence of church personnel taking children across state lines for purposes of sexual abuse, any evidence of personnel sending sexual material about children electronically and any evidence that church officials reassigned suspected predators or used church resources to further or conceal such conduct ..."
Earlier this year, a grand jury in Pennsylvania issued a long, damning report on instances of sexual abuse by priests in six church dioceses. It found that about 300 priests had engaged in abuse over a period of seven decades. Victims were said to number more than 1,000. (An earlier reported detailed similar abuses in two other dioceses.)
"Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades," asserted the grand jury report.
The Post reported that the decision to get involved in the case was made by justice Department officials in Philadelphia, not Washington, D.C. Speculation holds that the probe may be focusing on allegations that some priests possessed child pornography or transported children across state lines for sexual purposes. Both would count as violations of federal law.
Marci Hamilton, a constitutional law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who advises survivors of clerical abuse, said the grand jury report "persuaded a lot of politicians that it's politically safe to investigate the church. Thirteen states are investigating. The federal government is finally doing something. The federal government has been conspicuously absent from this discussion. I think the logjam is breaking by those in power to look deeply into this...