The Delaware Department of Justice on Thursday confirmed that it has opened a criminal investigation into possible sexual abuse by priests and other personnel in the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington.
The DOJ said in a press release that it issued a subpoena on Sept. 11 for a “broad range of diocesan records covering a period of decades.”
“The purpose of the review is to determine whether there are any prosecutable criminal cases that may have not come to light in previous reviews of information provided by the diocese,” the DOJ said.
The Wilmington diocese said in a statement that the documents requested by Attorney General Matt Denn included files of abusive priests that were made public six years ago in a bankruptcy settlement amid mounting allegations of sexual abuse dating back to the 1950s. The diocese in 2011 agreed to settle 142 claims of abuse by priests for $77 million.
The diocese said that it met with then Attorney General M. Jane Brady in 2002 and provided all reports of abuse up to that time, and in 2006, the names of all abusive priests were made public. The diocese said it has not had a credible reported instance of sexual abuse of a child by anyone in diocesan or parish ministry in more than 25 years.
The diocese said that it welcomed the investigation and was “fully cooperating” with the DOJ.
“We are confident that with our safe environment and reporting policies and our continued vigilance, we will continue to ensure that our parishes and schools are safe and sacred spaces. We encourage anyone who has been sexually abused by a member of the clergy or anyone else, to immediately notify local law enforcement authorities,” the diocese said.
The DOJ said that it had reviewed some records provided by the diocese from 2002 to 2004 but decided to issue the subpoena seven weeks ago in light of the disclosures in investigations by other jurisdictions.
A Pennsylvania grand jury report in August detailed decades of sexual abuse by priests, setting off a crisis within the church and sparking inquiries in other states by church and state officials. The report found that 300 priests in Pennsylvania had molested nearly 1,000 children over 70 years, and it pointed to a concerted cover-up effort orchestrated by the highest echelons of the church.
In September, New York Attorney General General Barbara D. Underwood announced a civil investigation into how diocese in that state had handled allegations of sexual abuse of minors, and credited the Pennsylvania grand jury report with shining a light on the “incredibly disturbing and depraved acts by Catholic clergy, assisted by a culture of secrecy and cover-ups.”
It was not clear Thursday whether the Delaware DOJ’s investigation would result in the release of a public report or potential civil action against the church.
A spokesman for Denn did not return calls seeking additional comment on the probe.
The Wilmington diocese, established in 1868, comprises 56 parishes, 18 missions and 36 schools in Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore.