Delaware attorney general confirms clergy abuse probe
— Delaware’s Department of Justice has confirmed that it is investigating potential criminal conduct by priests or other personnel of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington.
Officials said Thursday
DOVER, DEL. (AP)
that the investigation has focused on acquiring and reviewing diocesan papers for records of sexual abuse or other abuse.
As part of the investigation, authorities issued a subpoena in September for a wide range of diocesan records spanning decades.
Delaware authorities previously reviewed some records provided by the diocese from 2002 to 2004. They issued the recent subpoena in light of the disclosures of clergy abuse investigations in other states, including neighboring Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Bob Krebs, a spokesman for the diocese, said in an email Thursday that the subpoena asks for any records related to sexual abuse of minors dating back to 1955.
“We welcome this investigation and are fully cooperating,” Krebs said, noting that the diocese has not had a credible reported instance of child sexual abuse by anyone in diocesan or parish ministry in more than 25 years.
The diocese, which ser ves Catholics in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, sought bankruptcy protection in October 2009 on the eve of the first in a series of trials scheduled in lawsuits filed by alleged victims of priest abuse.
The first cases scheduled for trial involved lawsuits against former priest Francis DeLuca. DeLuca served as a priest for 35 years but was defrocked in 2008 after he was arrested in New York in 2006 and charged with repeatedly molesting his grandnephew. DeLuca was sentenced in 2007 to 60 days in jail. Shortly after his arrest, the diocese released the names of 20 priests, including DeLuca, against whom it had substantiated allegations child sexual abuse.
The diocese emerged from bankruptcy in 2011 after agreeing to fund a $77 million trust to compensate some 150 alleged victims of priest sex abuse in return for the release of all legal claims against the diocese, its parishes and affiliated entities. As part of the settlement, files of abusive priests, who in many cases were allowed to continue to prey on children for years after their abuse became known, were made public.
While Delaware’s criminal code states that prosecutions for most felonies must be commenced within five years, lawmakers approved of a provision in 2003 allowing the prosecution for certain child sex offenses to be commenced “at any time.” Prior to 2003, prosecutions for sexual offenses could be started either before the statute of limitations expired or, if that time had expired, within two years after the initial disclosure of the crime to authorities. The change in the law eliminated the statute of limitations altogether.
Earlier this year, Delaware prosecutors for the first time brought criminal child molestation charges against a Catholic priest. The January indictment charged 76-year-old John A. Sarro with first-degree unlawful sexual intercourse and second-degree unlawful sexual contact.
Sarro was accused of fondling a pre-teen girl sometime between September 1991 and August 1992 by touching her breasts. Prosecutors allege he later had oral sex with the girl between July 1993 and July 1994.
Sarro, who was among the priests whose names were disclosed by the diocese in 2006, died in July at a nursing home while awaiting trial.