The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an investigation of child sex abuse within Pennsylvania's Roman Catholic Church.
It is targeted the possibility that priests and bishops violated federal law in cases that go back decades. Authorities have issued subpoenas to look into possible violations of the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute, also known as RICO. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton acknowledged on Thursday they had received federal subpoenas. Supporters of those who have been victimized by church leaders applauded federal prosecutors for initiating a criminal investigation.
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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. The federal investigation follows a sweeping grand jury report released in August by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office that found that more than 1,000 minors were abused by some 300 priests across Pennsylvania over a 70-year period. However, because some of the allegations are decades old, many of the accused are now deceased. If the inquiry of the Pennsylvania church results in criminal charges, it could be used as a road map for federal prosecutors hoping to pursue abusers in other states. Last week, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, who was described in the Pennsylvania report as mishandling sex abuse allegations against priests when he was bishop of Pittsburgh. On Wednesday, a former priest in the Diocese of Erie, who was named in the report, pleaded guilty in state court to felonies for the repeated sexual assault of an altar boy and the attempted assault of another boy.