Attorney General Xavier Becerra has subpoenaed the records of priests in six of the 12 dioceses in California including the Archdioceses of Los Angeles and San Francisco. The dioceses which received a subpoena for priest files include San Jose, Sacramento, Fresno and Orange. It is unclear why the Attorney General did not subpoena the records of the other dioceses nor is it clear why these six were chosen. One of the dioceses not issued a subpoena has been criticized for publishing an inaccurate and incomplete list of credibly accused clergy. The diocese issued a list containing the names of 65 priests while abuse advocates in Oakland noted that there are actually closer to 150 priests who are credibly accused of the sexual abuse of children.
While there is no apparent correlation, four of the six subpoenaed dioceses are participating in the Independent Compensation Program (Los Angeles, Sacramento, Fresno, and Orange). Those survivors who choose to participate in the Independent Compensation Program will not have access to church files or documents concerning the abusive priest or how the diocese handled the priest and survivor allegations.
The subpoena allows the Attorney General unfettered access to the priest files in those places where he issued a subpoena. No document can be withheld by the diocese or archdiocese, including medical records. The investigation will also have access to documents that may reveal how the particular diocese handled allegations of priest abuse.
It is odd that the Attorney General did not issue subpoenas for every diocese, especially since some of the priest abusers worked in more than one diocese in California. It is also not how law enforcement handled the investigation in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston last November when the Archdiocesan chancery was raided by law enforcement. During the raid, computers were seized, files were secured and the archdiocese was not notified prior to the raid.
At the time of the Houston raid, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo stated that his staff was cooperating fully with law enforcement officials. However, the assistant district attorney in charge of the investigation said that a search of the church offices was necessary because the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston had turned over only a portion of the evidence. This same scenario may play out in California but how will the Attorney General know if he has everything unless his staff goes in and takes whatever it can find?
At the time of the Houston raid, Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon stated, “We’re treating the Catholic Church the same way we treat a bank that has records, the same way we treat a criminal enterprise.” Unfortunately, this is necessary. We can no longer afford to take the Catholic Church’s officials at their word.
In my experience, the Church should not be allowed to pick and choose what documents it hands over to law enforcement. The raid in Houston was the only way to handle an investigation into an organization that has not been forthcoming, transparent, or willing to work with law enforcement.
Admitted to practice law in all federal multidistrict litigation courts, the California State Bar and the Florida Bar. His philosophy is to provide aggressive, quality representations and seek fair compensation for individuals and their families who have suffered injury, death, or sexual abuse.