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Justice Department Opens Probe into Penn. Church Sex Abuse

The Divine Redeemer Catholic Church in Mt. Carmel, Penn., August 17, 2018 (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The Justice Department has launched an investigation into child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania, according to reports Thursday.

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed at least three dioceses in the state for documents on sexual-abuse cases and testimony from Church leaders.

A grand-jury report in August described allegations of child sexual abuse by 301 priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses affecting more than 1,000 children over the last 70 years. The state’s statute of limitations prevented all but two priests mentioned in the report from being charged with a crime.

Bishops and other Church leaders followed a “playbook for concealing the truth,” pressuring victims not to report the abuse and convincing law enforcement not to investigate, the report found.

The move by the Justice Department comes amid a mounting sexual-abuse crisis in the Church. Over the summer, fresh allegations surfaced against priests in countries including Australia and Chile, while Pope Francis accepted the resignation of ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick after an internal Church investigation found a “credible and substantiated” allegation that he molested a teenage altar boy in New York City in the early 1970s. McCarrick has been accused of sexually abusing other children as well as adult seminarians over the course of decades.

In separate statements Thursday, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Diocese of Erie, and the Diocese of Allentown confirmed that they have been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors, and pledged to cooperate.

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