California attorney general to issue subpoenas to 6 Catholic dioceses in priest abuse inquiry

Christ Cathedral in Orange County
Christ Cathedral in Orange County is in one of six Catholic dioceses in California that will be issued a subpoena related to the Catholic Church’s handling of sex abuse cases.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

California prosecutors plan to issue subpoenas to half of the state’s Catholic dioceses as part of a growing investigation into the church’s handling of sex abuse cases, according to several dioceses and the California Catholic Conference.

The move marks another escalation of the California attorney general’s investigation of the church scandal, which already has resulted in massive settlements for accusers and criminal charges against individual priests statewide.

The dioceses in Sacramento, Fresno, Orange, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Francisco received notices sometime last week that they would be issued the subpoenas. The Diocese of Orange and the Diocese of San Jose have been officially served with the subpoena orders.

The Times reported in May that Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra would audit all 12 of the state’s Roman Catholic dioceses on the procedures they follow with sex abuse cases and whether they complied with their reporting requirements.


Each diocese received a notice that they should preserve files and records pertaining to clergy sex abuse and mandatory reporting.

Steve Pehanich, of the California Catholic Conference, said “we’re not exactly sure why” the six subpoenas are being issued now, since those dioceses had been supplying the attorney general’s office with records voluntarily since May. The California Catholic Conference is the public policy arm of the Roman Catholic Church.

“We don’t know how they selected them,” he said.

As of Tuesday morning, the San Francisco and Sacramento dioceses had not received an official order, though they were notified last week that it was coming.

“We anticipate [the subpoena] any time,” said Kevin Eckery, a representative for the Sacramento diocese.

Previous reports that all 12 dioceses in California received the notices are inaccurate, according to several dioceses. The San Bernardino, Oakland, Stockton, San Diego, Santa Rosa and Monterey dioceses have not been notified of a subpoena order as of Tuesday morning.

The attorney general’s office is not commenting on the matter and did not answer questions about the subpoenas.

“To protect its integrity, we don’t comment on potential or ongoing investigations,” officials said in an email to The Times.

The Diocese of Orange said in a statement that it “views the [attorney general] as a partner, not an adversary, in the mutual goal to extinguish abuse; it will strictly comply with its legal obligations; and it appreciates the opportunity to highlight its diligence and efforts in care of the faithful.”


The Sacramento Diocese said in a statement last week it had been working with the attorney general’s office to provide records for the investigation since May and officials believe the subpoena will “move us toward our shared goal of ensuring that the safeguards in place for our children are working as they should.”

“Nobody has anything to hide,” Eckery said.

The bishop for the Diocese of Fresno, Joseph V. Brennan, said in a statement last week that the attorney general’s review “is a welcomed process that will help us to advance efforts towards greater transparency; to further learn from our past, scrutinize our current performance in implementing mandated reporting procedures; and, to continue to tirelessly pursue and develop all reasonable measures to protect the vulnerable in our midst.”

Elizabeth Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of San Jose, said the diocese already has provided the attorney general with more than 1,000 documents related to the mandatory reporting of allegations of sexual misconduct with minors by clergy and laypeople since 1996.

The Diocese of San José believes that by learning from the past, we can bring about true healing for victims/survivors and our Church,” Sullivan said in a statement. “The Diocese of San José [works] tirelessly to ensure a safe environment for all God’s children to prevent the devastating sin of sexual abuse by promoting awareness, requiring accountability and reporting, and demonstrating transparency.”

Several of the diocese that were not issued subpoenas, including the Diocese of Monterey and the Diocese of Oakland, said they would cooperate on resolving whatever legal obligations came from the attorney general’s investigation.

Other state attorneys general have launched Catholic clergy abuse investigations in the wake of new scandals in the last year, including a Pennsylvania report alleging a decades-long coverup of child sex abuse involving more than 1,000 victims and hundreds of clergy.

An Illinois attorney general’s report released in December found that the number of Catholic clergy accused of sexual abuse in that state was much higher than previously acknowledged. The report found that 690 clergy had been accused, although church officials had publicly identified only 185 with credible allegations against them. Churches in California and elsewhere across the nation responded by releasing previously undisclosed names of clergy accused of abuse.