PBS News Hour | Dan Cooney & Courtney Norris | 10/19/18
The U.S. Department of Justice is launching an investigation into child sex abuse within Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic churches, the latest fallout of widespread allegations made public by a grand jury probe this summer, and felt in communities across the U.S.
The PBS NewsHour confirmed that Justice Department prosecutors served subpoenas to six of Pennsylvania’s eight Catholic dioceses: Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Scranton. A seventh diocese — Harrisburg — told the NewsHour in a statement that it will “cooperate fully” with the DOJ’s inquiry, but didn’t specify whether it was served with a subpoena.
A DOJ spokesperson declined to comment on the existence of the investigation.
The new investigation follows a nearly 900-page grand jury report, released in August, that compiled testimonies from victims alleging decades of abuse by clergy and other church officials. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro told reporters at the time that the testimonies also pointed to a “sophisticated” cover-up by top church officials.
After a review of internal church documents, the report said there were “credible” allegations against more than 300 “predator priests” in Pennsylvania who sexually abused more than 1,000 children in cases going back to the 1940s. The report also resulted in criminal charges against two Catholic priests. Neither the Archdiocese of Philadelphia nor the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown were flagged in August’s grand jury report, but they were the subject of other grand jury investigations in previous years.
Weeks after the report was released, its findings have prompted attorneys general in other states — including Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey and New Mexico, among others — to pursue their own investigations into the issue. The scopes of these individual probes, along with what exactly the DOJ investigation will include, are not yet clear.
Here’s a look at the fallout from the Pennsylvania grand jury report, leading to the DOJ’s announcement.
What has happened since the Pennsylvania grand jury report?
- Aug. 14, 2018: The grand jury report is released. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, who previously served as bishop of Pittsburgh for 18 years and was mentioned in the report, issued a pre-emptive statement ahead of the report, acknowledging that while it “may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse.”
- Aug. 20, 2018: Pope Francis responded to the Pennsylvania grand jury report in a letter to Catholics worldwide. “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them,” he wrote.
- Aug, 23, 2018: Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan noted the Pennsylvania grand jury report “identifies at least seven priests with connections to Illinois.” She said the Archdiocese of Chicago agreed to meet with her about the issue. “As attorney general, I can work with states’ attorneys to force the Church to produce its records and document all of the crimes children in Illinois suffered,” she also wrote in an op-ed for the Springfield State Journal-Register days later. “That could be a long and painful process.”
- Aug. 24, 2018: Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is running for U.S. Senate this fall, said his office will investigate clergy sex abuse in Catholic dioceses in the state. The Archdiocese of St. Louis said the attorney general’s office will have “unfettered” access to its files.
- Aug. 26, 2018: Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former head Vatican diplomat to the U.S., published a letter alleging that Pope Francis knew of sexual abuse claims against the former archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, yet rehabilitated him within the church. Francis said the letter “speaks for itself” and said he trusted journalists to look at the letter critically.
- Sept. 4, 2018: New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said he is investigating claims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the dioceses located in his state, including the cities of Santa Fe, Gallup and Las Cruces. In a letter dated Tuesday, Sept. 4, to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Balderas said that his demand for information “is being sent to you in contemplation of litigation.” All three dioceses have pledged said in statements that they intend to to cooperate with investigators.
- Sept. 5, 2018: The Archdiocese of Omaha pledged to cooperate with what it called “the state attorney general’s request to review its investigative records” to audit the archdiocese’s efforts to report and respond to allegations of sexual abuse. According to the diocese, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson sent a request by mail to the church asking for records as far back as 1978.
- Sept. 6, 2018: The state attorneys general of New York and New Jersey announced investigations into clergy abuse in Roman Catholic dioceses in their states.
- Sept. 13, 2018: Archbishop William Lori is appointed apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia, following the resignation of its bishop, Michael Bransfield. According to a statement from the Baltimore archdiocese, Pope Francis “further instructed Archbishop Lori to conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults against Bishop Bransfield.”
- Sept. 14, 2018: Wuerl marks a six-week “Season of Healing” in the Archdiocese of Washington for clergy abuse victims.
- Sept. 14, 2018: The Diocese of Salt Lake City in Utah said in a statement that it has “received credible allegations of sexual abuse against 16 priests, one religious brother and one seminarian that involved approximately 34 victims” since 1990. According to the statement, investigations into two allegations brought this year against two priests are ongoing.
- Sept. 18, 2018: Shapiro, the Pennsylvania attorney general, held a news conference to discuss the recommendations put forth by the grand jury a month earlier. “When the Grand Jury released its report, I challenged all Pennsylvania bishops to adopt and support each of these recommended reforms to Pennsylvania law,” he said. “Sadly, none of them have.”
- Sept. 18, 2018: Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, disclosed the names of 18 priests and deacons who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors at his diocese. Rhoades was formerly the bishop of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, diocese from 2004 to 2009.
- Sept. 19, 2018: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced a “third-party reporting system” for confidential complaints of sex abuse. “This is a time of deep examination of conscience for each bishop,” the committee said in a statement. “We cannot content ourselves that our response to sexual assault within the Church has been sufficient.”
- Sept. 21, 2018: Several members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives introduced a resolution calling on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “conduct a comprehensive, nationwide investigation into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and related institutional cover-ups.”
- Sept. 25, 2018: The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill to eliminate the criminal statutes of limitations on future cases involving child sexual abuse. The move extends the deadline for victims to pursue civil cases up to when they turn 50 and opens a two-year window for civil suits to be brought by older victims seeking damages from their abusers.
- Sept. 26, 2018: Lori, the archbishop of Baltimore, said in a statement that the archdiocese had “been in discussions” with Maryland’s attorney general about an investigation into clergy abuse.
- Oct. 2, 2018: In a statement, the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo in New York announced that “after receiving an abuse complaint against Father Louis S. Dolinic,” Bishop Richard J. Malone placed Dolinic on administrative leave as “an investigation continues.”
- Oct. 4, 2018: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced a new tip line for residents to call in complaints of clergy sex abuse. The move was part of what Bondi called an “ongoing investigation into all seven Catholic dioceses in the state.” The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is assisting with the statewide investigation, according to a statement.
- Oct. 8, 2018: The Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky, released statistics on child sexual abuse allegations against priests. The diocese reports that, of the 366 priests who have worked at Owensboro since its founding in 1937, there have been allegations brought by 62 people against 27 priests. “The diocese has only received four allegations of incidents that have occured after 2002,” according to the report.
- Oct. 10, 2018: All 15 Catholic dioceses in Texas and the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, a diocese-like community that ministers to people seeking to become Catholic, officially announced an agreement to publish a list of clergy in the state credibly accused of sexually abusing minors. Each diocese will publish their lists by Jan. 31, 2019.
- Oct. 10, 2018: The head of the pope’s commission on the protection of minors, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston,, planned to forward investigative reports by WKBW-TV on the handling of alleged clergy sex abuse in Buffalo, New York, to the top Vatican diplomat in the U.S. “It is the Cardinal’s assessment that the information in your reports should be reviewed by the Church authorities who have oversight and jurisdiction for the action or inaction of diocesan leadership in Buffalo with regard to the reports of abuse,” Boston archdiocesan spokesperson Terrence Donilon told the station.
- Oct. 12, 2018: Pope Francis announced he would accept Wuerl’s resignation. Wuerl submitted his resignation when he turned 75 years old, as required of all bishops under church law. But Francis had not acted upon that offer until now. He asked Wuerl stay on as a temporary administrator of the archdiocese until a successor is chosen.
- Oct. 17, 2018: The Rev. David Poulson pleaded guilty to molesting two boys while serving as a priest in the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania. According to the grand jury’s presentment from May, two victims testified that they had been abused by Poulson while camping with him at his cabin. Poulson was one of two priests — the Rev. James Sweeney of the Diocese of Greensburg was the other — to be charged as part of the grand jury investigation. As part of the plea agreement, Poulson said he would request laicization, or removal from the priesthood, GoErie reported.
- Oct. 17, 2018: The Pennsylvania Senate left the capitol without voting on legislation that would adopt reforms recommended by the grand jury’s report. Senate Bill 261 would have allowed now-adult victims of clergy abuse a two-year window to bring a civil case. Shapiro, in a statement, criticized the Republican leadership for the hold-up. A new Legislature will convene in January.
- Oct. 18, 2018: In California, the Diocese of San Jose released a list of names and the current statuses of 15 priests credibly accused of sexual abuse against minors dating back to 1981. Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI executive assistant director, is leading a team in actively compiling an independent audit of the diocese. In a statement, Bishop Patrick J. McGrath wrote that “every bishop, priest, deacon, employee, and volunteer, who have contact with children in any capacity, must undergo a background check and triennial training on how to prevent, recognize and report the sexual abuse of children.”
- Oct. 18, 2018: The Diocese of Buffalo said in a statement that “several months ago,” it received a call “from the local U.S. Attorney’s office with a request to review documents.” Once a subpoena was served and “after some discussion, an agreement was reached to produce documents.” The diocese added: “We have heard nothing since early June.”
- Oct. 18, 2018: Several Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania confirmed that they have been served with subpoenas by the DOJ.
The PBS NewsHour’s Joshua Barajas contributed to this report.