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This past Wednesday, local Houston law enforcement officials did something that was unprecedented.  They obtained a search warrant and raided the headquarters of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston looking specifically for the secret archives. The police action in Texas was taken by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, along with the Texas Rangers and Conroe Police Department. More than 50 investigators arrived Wednesday morning carrying boxes inside the Chancery, located at 1700 San Jacinto Street in downtown Houston.

I’ve been involved in priest abuse cases where I’ve demanded the files contained in the secret archives through the normal course of discovery but this is completely different.  It’s important to note that the warrant was executed concerning a criminal case (my priest abuse cases are civil) concerning a Houston priest who was charged this past September on four counts of indecency with a child.

Initially, the district attorney was careful to note that the search warrant and raid were limited in scope but Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said in a news conference Wednesday if the search turned up documents about potential criminal activity involving other priests, the Texas Rangers would investigate that information.

While the Archdiocese maintains it is cooperating with the investigation, the district attorney did not agree with that assessment. Ligon said that cooperation hasn’t been as open and transparent as he would like. Rather than getting the keys from day one, Ligon said he had to get attorneys involved and obtain a search warrant.

“That’s not the type of cooperation I would hope for,” the DA said. “But it’s the type of cooperation I would expect from a sophisticated company.”

As an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, I’ve always known that the vast secrets and criminal activity of the Catholic Church concerning the abuse of children was located in the secret archives.  Per canon law (church law), each diocese must maintain a secret archives where confidential documents are located.  In the few instances where the secret archives have been accessed (Los Angeles, Boston, and Manchester, NH), the archives provided a veritable treasure trove of papers documenting years of sexual abuse of children and the bishops’ cover-up of same.  In one document, the bishop of Manchester, NH agreed to destroy a medical file of a priest who was diagnosed as a serial sex abuser.

It is too early to tell what Texas law enforcement officials might find in the secret archives.  The salient point is that they obtained a search warrant specifically for the secret archives, something that had been off limits previously.

Perhaps we’ve reached a tipping point in the Catholic priest abuse crisis.  The courts may now be willing to be more aggressive in allowing investigations of the Catholic Church.  If true, this is a positive development for sexual abuse survivors and their advocates.

It is also worth noting that the raid took place at the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston whose leader is president of the United States Catholic Bishops Conference, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo.  This has been a difficult month for the Houston cardinal.  Earlier this month, during a meeting of the country’s bishops, DiNardo was publicly humiliated by Pope Francis when the Pope forbade the bishops from voting on reform measures.  DiNardo was caught by surprise by the papal intervention and had very little to say in the aftermath.  This week’s raid on his chancery also caught him by surprise.  While he was aware that law enforcement was actively investigating the criminal behavior of one of its priests, he was not aware that police were seeking a search warrant for his secret archives.

The Catholic Church in the United States is under increasing scrutiny after stunning revelations earlier this year concerning bishops malfeasance and the downfall of Cardinal McCarrick.

 

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