The U.S. Justice Department Thursday opened an investigation into child sexual abuse inside the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania.
The investigation follows a grand jury report released earlier this year that claims senior Church officials had protected over 300 “predator priests” involved in the molestation of over 1,000 children over seven decades.
Officials served subpoenas last week demanding confidential files and testimony from Church leaders, according to the Associated Press. Because of the statute of limitations, and the death of many priests involved, however, only two priests are facing charges.
The investigation opens a day after the state Senate failed to pass a bill that would have temporarily allowed past sexual assault victims two years to file a civil suit.
The bill — which was proposed in January but has been held up over amendment debates — would have also allowed those older than 18 unlimited time to pursue cases against their childhood abusers, along with those who conspired with abusers or failed to prevent subsequent abuse despite knowing of the original abuse.
“We always welcome the continued interest and scrutiny into powerful organizations which hide sexual abuse,” Nathaniel Foote, a lawyer representing sexual abuse cases for Pennsylvania’s Andreozzi & Associates law firm, said.
Foote hopes the current investigation will “move the needle in favor of the survivors and compel legislature to send the bill to the governor so it can be signed into law.” He pointed to an uptick in individuals coming forward with stories of sexual assault in the current climate of the #MeToo movement, including those whom he said recognized and identified names in the August grand jury report as their abusers.
The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, which oversaw the state probe into the Church, set up a hotline for survivors of clergy sexual abuse after the report was released, which Attorney General Josh Shapiro says “lit up” with calls.
Our hotline for clergy sex abuse has been lit up since yesterday afternoon. 150+ calls / emails & lots of survivors who are now surfacing to tell their stories and seek justice.— AG Josh Shapiro (@PAAttorneyGen) August 15, 2018
I'll repeat it again: this is an ongoing investigation.
Our Hotline #: 888-538-8541
While Shapiro has declined to comment on the federal investigation, he tweeted about the bill, saying the senate’s inability to pass it “exemplified the danger of representatives who bend to special interests over the people.”
Last night's failure of the @PASenateGOP exemplified the danger of representatives who bend to special interests over the people. It’s hard to accept, but luckily, we have the Survivors to look up to.— AG Josh Shapiro (@PAAttorneyGen) October 18, 2018
The dioceses of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie, and Allentown told Reuters that they had received federal subpoenas and were cooperating with the Justice Department, but declined to comment further.