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US Officials Open Catholic Clergy Abuse Investigation in Pennsylvania

FILE - Carolyn Fortney, a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of her family's Roman Catholic parish priest as a child, awaits legislation in the Pennsylvania Capitol to respond to a landmark state grand jury report on child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018 in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)
US Officials Open Catholic Clergy Abuse Investigation in Pennsylvania
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Federal officials in the United States are investigating child sexual abuse inside the Roman Catholic Church.

The Associated Press reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has officially demanded documents and statements from church leaders in Pennsylvania. The orders were presented to church officials last week, the AP says.

In August, a grand jury released a report about such accusations. The report accused 301 priests in Pennsylvania of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children over 70 years. It also said that high-level church officials hid the activities to protect the accused.

Federal government lawyers, called prosecutors, are now taking action. That is what two people who were not permitted to discuss the investigation told AP. They spoke to the AP on the condition that the news group would keep their identities secret.

Marci Hamilton is a University of Pennsylvania professor and leader of Child USA, a nonprofit research group for child abuse prevention.

She said such action would be important. "The federal government has so far been utterly silent on the Catholic cases," she added.

U.S. Attorney William McSwain of Philadelphia released the orders for the documents and statements by Catholic officials. He said he wants to know if officials such as priests, bishops, seminarians or other Catholic leaders carried out any federal crimes.

Such crimes could include taking children across state lines for illegal purposes, sending sexual images or messages electronically or ordering anyone not to contact police. McSwain also said he wants to know if Catholic officials moved suspected abusers to other areas or used money or other possessions as part of such wrongdoing.

The order seeks private church records. The AP’s unidentified individuals said government lawyers are also seeking records on the local Church’s organization and finances. Details of where clergy worked and the treatment of priests are also being sought.

The Pennsylvania grand jury report was almost 900 pages. It found that church leaders systematically hid evidence of wrongdoing.

However, the report said only two priests could be charged because of time limits on legal action for such crimes. Many accused priests have already died.

Legal experts said local Roman Catholic Churches could possibly be charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. That federal law, passed by Congress in 1970, is meant to fight organized crime.

I’m Caty Weaver.

The Associated Press news agency reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

grand jury - n. a group of people who look at the evidence against someone who has been accused of a crime in order to decide if there should be a trial​

utterly - adj. complete and total​