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Michael W Murphy // CC BY 2.0

The United States Department of Justice has opened a statewide investigation of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in Pennsylvania, subpoenaing at least seven dioceses — including the archdiocese in Philadelphia — according to the Washington Post.

The investigation comes in the wake of a grand jury report that found that more than 300 Catholic priests across Pennsylvania abused upwards of 1,000 children over seventy years, the Post reported in August. 

The New York Times described the probe as the first investigation into the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal by the federal government. Previously, the federal government left investigations of the church to state and local prosecutors.

Reports by the Associated Press on Oct. 18 claim that U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William McSwain issued the Justice Department’s subpoenas. The subpoenas will require church leaders to testify before a federal grand jury in Philadelphia and turn over sensitive documents and financial records for investigation.

An Eastern Catholic diocese in Philadelphia — the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia — has also received a grand jury subpoena and promised cooperation at an upcoming court hearing on Oct. 24. 

Penn professor and advocate for survivors of childhood abuse Marci Hamilton told the Washington Post that the Justice Department’s probe is focused on investigating potential violations of child pornography laws and the Mann Act, which prohibits crossing state boundaries for sex. She also believes the federal government is taking action because the grand jury report has convinced politicians that it is “politically safe” to investigate the church.

Hamilton, a 1988 Penn Law graduate, is the founder of CHILD USA, a nonprofit think tank focused on preventing child abuse. Hamilton was also an outside consultant for a 2005 grand jury report on sexual abuse at the Philadelphia archdiocese, which was the first major grand jury report on an American archdiocese.

Hamilton added that the federal investigation is a necessary step in protecting children from abuse.

“I don’t think that the higher-ups in the hierarchy are capable at this point of the reforms needed to adequately protect children,” Hamilton told Penn Today in a Sept. 5 interview. “Lawmakers must step up.”