NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A former U.S. attorney says a Justice Department decision to investigate church sex abuse is unprecedented. Meantime, local Catholics say they welcome the probe that they believe could be beneficial in the long run.
Every day in New Orleans, the Catholic faithful line up for mid-day Mass at St. Louis Cathedral.
“I think people are leaving because of the priests, but we have good ones and we should follow our faith,” said churchgoer Krystal Allemand of Raceland.
Many worry that persistent allegations of sexual wrongdoing at the hands of clergy members is hurting the church they love.
"I think we are losing parishioners because of this," said Allemand.
As the archbishop of New Orleans considers releasing a list of those within the church who have been credibly accused of abuse, the DOJ has already begun an investigation into the allegations against scores of clergy members in Pennsylvania, and it’s well underway.
“Subpoenas have been issued to almost every diocese in the state of Pennsylvania,” said former U.S. Attorney from the Eastern District of Louisiana, Harry Rosenberg.
It is an investigation that local abuse victims have been calling for.
“They’re crossing interstate jurisdictions, and because they’re organized, the feds could apply the RICO statute to it,” said alleged victim Richard Windmann.
Rosenberg says the feds could prosecute under federal child endangerment or conspiracy laws, but he says RICO, a conspiracy statute designed to bring down organized crime, might be a reach.
“RICO charges are difficult to prove and creates a heightened burden of proof for federal prosecutors and could be over-reaching,” said Rosenberg.
With 300 priests accused of wrongdoing in Pennsylvania alone, this could be a massive and expensive investigation, but Rosenberg says the DOJ has deep pockets.
“Certainly it’s not a large chunk of the Department of Justice’s budget,” said Rosenberg.
The ultimate question is whether the probe will eventually expand to states like Louisiana, where the church sex scandal here first broke in the 1980s.
“They seem aggressive. A lot of people are wondering if it will spread to the other 49 states,” said Rosenberg.
Local Catholics say they hope that it does.
“Yes, I think they should investigate it and get to the bottom of it,” said Allemand.
They say their church has suffered, and they want the healing to begin.
Rosenberg says subpoenas are already going out in seven of the eight dioceses in Pennsylvania. He believes the Justice Department has been working hand-in-hand with Pennsylvania’s attorney general, who recently completed a grand jury investigation identifying 1,000 clergy abuse victims, in that state.