The Department of Justice has subpoenaed at least seven of the eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania as part of an investigation into abuse by priests.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton acknowledged on Thursday they had received federal subpoenas.
“The Diocese of Pittsburgh has received the subpoena from the US Department of Justice and will cooperate fully with any and all investigations of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy in Pennsylvania,” said spokesman the Rev. Nicholas S. Vaskov.
The department is also looking into the Diocese of Buffalo, New York, a source with knowledge of the federal subpoena told CNN.
Several groups that represent abuse survivors said this appears to be the first federal probe of this size and scope into sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the United States. A spokesperson for the Department of Justice in Washington declined to comment.
The federal probes come on the heels of a damning grand jury report in Pennsylvania that found credible evidence that 301 “predator priests” abused more than 1,000 children in six dioceses since 1947.
Because the statute of limitations had run out on most of the crimes, only two priests have been charged as a result of the two-year-long investigation.
But the Pennsylvania report has prompted officials in several other states to open inquiries into allegations of sexual misconduct by Catholic clergy.
The Survivors Network of those Abuse by Priests has been asking for a federal investigation into the Catholic Church since 2003, during the church’s last widespread scandal of clergy sex abuse.
David Clohessy, SNAP’s former national director, said “as best we can tell” this is the first such federal probe into the Catholic Church in the United States targeting clergy sexual abuse. “And it is long overdue.”
“This subpoena is no surprise considering the horrific misconduct detailed in the statewide grand jury report,” said Jerome Zufelt, spokesman for the Diocese of Greensburg.
“Survivors, parishioners and the public want to see proof that every diocese has taken sweeping, decisive and impactful action to make children safer. We see this as another opportunity for the Diocese of Greensburg to be transparent.”
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia likewise pledged to cooperate with the probe.
“The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has received a subpoena issued by a federal grand jury, which requires the production of certain documents. The archdiocese will cooperate with the United States Department of Justice in this matter,” the archdiocese said.
The Diocese of Allentown said it “is responding to an information request contained in a subpoena from the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania,” adding, “The diocese will cooperate fully with the request, just as it cooperated fully with the information requests related to the statewide grand jury.
“The diocese sees itself as a partner with law enforcement in its goal to eliminate the abuse of minors wherever it may occur in society.”
The Diocese of Erie also confirmed that it had received a subpoena. “Its counsel is in conversation with the Department of Justice. We will have no further comment at this time,” a spokeswoman said.
A spokesperson for the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia told CNN, “The US Department of Justice generally does not confirm, deny or otherwise comment on the existence or nonexistence of an investigation.”
Investigators in Buffalo seek documents about porn, source says
The Justice Department subpoenaed the Buffalo diocese in late May, a source with knowledge of the federal subpoena told CNN.
The source said the subpoena sought diocesan documentation regarding pornography, taking victims across state lines, and inappropriate use of cell phones and social media. The subpoena did not indicate toward what specific end this information was directed, the source said.
Bishop Richard Malone was frustrated the subpoena did not list specific names or the overall reason for the subpoena, the source added. Diocesan lawyers were not able to ascertain any more details despite negotiating to limit the documentation to living priests only, according to the source.
A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Buffalo said it received a request from the US attorney’s office several months ago to review documents.
“A subpoena was provided and after some discussion, an agreement was reached to produce documents,” communications director Kathy Spangler said. “We have heard nothing since early June. As far as we know, our response has nothing to do with the current Pennsylvania investigation that has just begun.”
Barbara Burns, public affairs officer of the US Attorney’s Office of the Western District of New York, told CNN by phone that the office cannot confirm nor deny investigations.