The Catholic Herald has learned that attorneys for the US Department of Justice have served subpoenas on the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia, as part of a growing federal investigation into the possible criminal conduct of Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania and New York.
Initial reports suggest the subpoenas require personnel jackets including disciplinary records, as well as related archive material and confidential files. The focus of the investigation appears to be the trafficking of minors across state lines for purposes of illicit sex and the production and distribution of child pornography across state lines. Both activities are federal crimes.
Kenneth Hutchins, the former Safe Environment Coordinator for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, told the Catholic Herald many emails were likely lost when the archeparchy changed email systems in 2014, but stressed that, to the best of his knowledge, the Ukrainian Church in Pennsylvania never had a reported case of abuse.
Hutchins’s recollection tracks with a statement in an October 10th letter to the Ukrainian Catholic clergy and faithful from the Apostolic Administrator of the Eparchy, Bishop Andriy Rabiy: “Concerning our Archeparchy of Philadelphia, we, to this date have not had an incident or allegation made against our clergy.”
News of the federal investigation broke in the wake of a game of brinksmanship in the Pennsylvania Senate, which failed to pass a bill that would have created a two-year window in which victims could have sued for damages. The bill had already passed the Pennsylvania House, but died in the Senate as the legislative term expired.
The subpoenas, however, were served several days before the Pennsylvania legislative term expired at midnight between Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
“There is such denial or at least deflection by bishops here and across the country, that given the reluctance of the Pennsylvania Senate to act, and the widespread hiding of abusive priests by bishops that were in Pennsylvania and went elsewhere, after the reaction of the State Grand Jury — which basically was just a data-gathering effort — the feds got into action,” said Hutchins, who retired from his position with the Ukrainian archeparchy in June of this year.
“The Pennsylvania Grand Jury looked back for many years,” Hutchins continued. “I think this is also a major test to see what, if anything, is and has been happening since the Dallas Charter was adopted,” Hutchins added, stressing the conjectural nature of the last observation.
Dozens of states have opened their own criminal investigations into the Catholic Church, or expressed interest in opening them, in the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.
Also this summer, news broke regarding the former Archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, who is credibly accused of molesting at least one minor. Pope Francis forced McCarrick to resign from the College of Cardinals over the summer and ordered him to a secluded life of prayer and penance while he awaits the results of a canonical trial on charges he abused an altar boy on at least two separate occasions when McCarrick was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.
McCarrick is living in a monastery in Kansas. The Vatican has not officially disclosed details of McCarrick’s formal indictment, while his canonical trial is conducted in secret. The US bishops have begged Pope Francis to authorize a special, Vatican-led investigation, called an Apostolic Visitation, aimed at discovering how the disgraced rose as high and became as powerful as he did, as well as determining the extent of McCarrick’s reach and of the general rot in Church leadership.
So far, however, Francis has refused to authorize a full investigation of the US hierarchy, but has promised a “thorough review” of Vatican files pertaining to McCarrick.
McCarrick’s spectacular fall from grace ushered in a summer of atrocious stories: of systematic abuse coverup on the part of US bishops, along with their protracted failure to police their own ranks and care for the general moral culture of the clergy. The news came in relentless torrents, outraging Catholics and the broad public alike, and raising serious questions about the extent of corruption, negligence, and incompetence at the highest levels of Church governance.