The Justice Department has launched an investigation into alleged sexual abuse by clergy in the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The move by the Justice Department to launch an investigation, even one limited to a single state, marks a major escalation in the government’s response to allegations that the church spent decades hiding the extent of the sex abuse problem among its priests, and allowing pedophiles to continue to work and live in communities.
“This is just a breathtaking, stunning, and very welcome development,” said Michael Dolce, a lawyer who represents victims of sexual abuse.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Philadelphia began issuing subpoenas recently, the person familiar with the matter said.
The investigation was sparked after a state grand jury issued a scathing report in August finding that more than 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania had sexually abused children over seven decades, protected by a hierarchy of church leaders who covered it up.
The lengthy report identified 1,000 children who were victims but concluded there were probably thousands more.
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Dolce said federal laws involving conspiracy and sex crimes across state lines could give investigators legal tools to investigate conduct that reached back over decades.
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