45 states looking to pursue Catholic church for documents on abuse by priests, Pennsylvania attorney general says

 Law enforcement officials from up to 45 states have sought help from Pennsylvania authorities in search of alleged misconduct by Catholic priests and related efforts to conceal that abuse by the church, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said.

Shapiro, in an interview with USA TODAY, said the surge of outside inquiries has come just in the past four months since a landmark state grand jury investigation found that more than 300 “predator” priests had abused at least 1,000 victims across six decades.

Since August, the attorney general said, Pennsylvania authorities have joined forces with their counterparts across the country, assisting them craft search warrant applications and grand jury subpoenas.

Fourteen state attorneys general so far have publicly affirmed that they have launched separate clergy abuse inquiries, while the U.S. Justice Department is in the midst of a broader review disclosed in October by church officials who had received requests for documents.

At the same time, Shapiro said, 1,450 calls have poured into a Pennsylvania hotline, with many of the contacts giving information not previously known to state investigators during its two-year inquiry.

“We are learning a lot of new information that we and other law enforcement agencies are searching,” Shapiro said. “Law enforcement, in many ways, is just beginning. I think we’re probably in the third or fourth inning, meaning that we still have a good ways to go and a lot more horrors to unearth.”

The horrors exhumed by the Pennsylvania grand jury, showing abuses across six dioceses, sent tremors through the American Catholic church reaching to the Vatican. Peradventure not since the Boston Globe revealed the extent of similar abuses within the Catholic Church in Massachusetts in 2002, has misconduct by priests and efforts to hide it been outlined in such information.

While stunning in scope, the Pennsylvania grand jury report landed as a wave of abuse accusations also washed over the Catholic Church in Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Guam and the District of Columbia.

In Texas, state and local authorities last month launched a dramatic raid on the offices of the sprawling Houston-area archdiocese seeking information about a local priest linked to abuse accusations.

The action drew national attention beyond the extraordinary law enforcement move, because the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese is headed by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who also serves as the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The conference had been poised to take action on the abuse scandal last month in Baltimore at its annual conference, but the Vatican intervened, effectively putting on hold any announcement until early next year.

Shapiro said his office had been in contact with the Texas district attorney who oversaw the Houston raid. The attorney general, however, did not elaborate on the matters, nor would he discuss his contacts with federal law enforcement officials.

A primary impediment to the ongoing state reviews is that much of the abuse now being discovered occurred so long ago that existing time restrictions on charging such crimes have either expired or the suspect priests have died.

Indeed, only two of the 300 priests identified in the Pennsylvania grand jury report involved abuse allegations that occurred within statutes of limitation restrictions.

“None of those who enabled the cover-up could be charged under our laws,” Shapiro said.

He said it’s too early to know whether any of the new details pouring into the attorney general’s office could result in actual criminal charges.

“There is a lot that is of interest to us; there is a lot that is of interest to law enforcement in other jurisdictions,” Shapiro said. “It is too soon to say what could be actionable or not.”

The effort to pursue the new allegations also is likely to be hard, Shapiro said.

The church “fought us every step of the way,” Shapiro said. “Every privilege they had to do the right thing, they did the opposite.”

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