California attorney general to issue subpoenas to 6 Catholic dioceses in priest abuse inquiry

Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

LOS ANGELES -- California prosecutors plan to issue subpoenas to half of the state's Catholic dioceses as part of a growing investigation into the church's handling of sex abuse cases, according to several dioceses and the California Catholic Conference.

The move marks another escalation of the California attorney general's investigation of the church scandal, which has already resulted in massive settlements for accusers and criminal charges against individual priests statewide.

The dioceses in Sacramento, Fresno, Orange, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Francisco received notices sometime last week that they would be issued the subpoenas. It's unclear whether any have officially received an order.

The Los Angeles Times reported in May that Attorney General Xavier Becerra would audit all 12 of the state's Roman Catholic dioceses on the procedures they follow with sex abuse cases and whether they complied with their reporting requirements.

Each diocese received a notice that they should preserve files and records pertaining to clergy sex abuse and mandatory reporting.

Steve Pehanich, of the California Catholic Conference, said, "We're not exactly sure why" the six subpoenas are being issued now, since those dioceses had been supplying the attorney general's office with records voluntarily since May. The California Catholic Conference is the public policy arm of the Catholic Church.

"We don't know how they selected them," he said.

As of Tuesday morning, the San Francisco and Sacramento dioceses had not received an official order, though they were notified last week that it was coming.

"We anticipate (the subpoena) any time," said Kevin Eckery, a representative for the Sacramento diocese.

Previous reports that all 12 dioceses in California received the notices are inaccurate, according to several dioceses. The San Bernardino, Oakland, Stockton, San Diego, Santa Rosa and Monterey dioceses had not been notified of a subpoena order as of Tuesday morning.

The attorney general's office is not commenting on the matter and did not answer questions about the subpoenas.


"To protect its integrity, we don't comment on potential or ongoing investigations," officials said in an email to the Times.

The Diocese of Orange said in a statement that it "views the (attorney general) as a partner, not an adversary, in the mutual goal to extinguish abuse; it will strictly comply with its legal obligations; and it appreciates the opportunity to highlight its diligence and efforts in care of the faithful."

The Sacramento Diocese said in a statement last week it had been working with the attorney general's office to provide records for the investigation since May and officials believe the subpoena will "move us toward our shared goal of ensuring that the safeguards in place for our children are working as they should."

"Nobody has anything to hide," Eckery said.

Other state attorneys general have launched Catholic clergy abuse investigations in the wake of new scandals in the last year, including a Pennsylvania report alleging a decadeslong cover-up of child sex abuse involving more than 1,000 victims and hundreds of clergy.

An Illinois attorney general's report released in December found that the number of Catholic clergy accused of sexual abuse in that state was much higher than previously acknowledged. The report found 690 clergy accused, although church officials had publicly identified only 185 with credible allegations against them. Churches in California and elsewhere across the nation responded by releasing previously undisclosed names of clergy accused of abuse.

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