If there is one thing we learned during the Trump administration, it is that in Washington, D.C., things often are not what they appear to be — particularly at the highly politicized Department of Justice.
When federal prosecutors leak stories to their pals in the establishment media, they often are pursuing their own agenda more than our best interests. Americans need to learn to look skeptically behind these headlines to discern what that agenda may be. As a case in point, consider a matter that my organization, Public Advocate, has been pursuing for the past two years.
Federal Prosecutors Begin Investigating Catholic Church
On Oct. 18, 2018, The Associated Press reported that “[f]ederal prosecutors have opened an investigation of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania, using subpoenas to demand secret files and testimony from high-ranking leaders in what victims’ advocates say is the first such probe ever launched by the U.S. Justice Department.”
This federal announcement was quite astonishing because, as the story noted, “investigations into sexual abuse by clergy members have historically been handled exclusively by state and local authorities.”
These federal prosecutors apparently were hoping to show that church leaders had systematically covered up for child-molesting priests in order to bring charges under the federal anti-racketeering RICO Act, “the law originally passed to bring down the Mafia.” Without facts on which RICO charges could be brought, federal prosecutors ordinarily would have no business investigating state and local criminal matters.
Initially, the AP story claimed that “[t]here was no indication the Justice Department is planning a nationwide investigation,” yet less than two weeks later, The Washington Post reported that such a nationwide investigation in fact did exist, and that “[t]he U.S. Justice Department … has sent a sweeping call to Catholic dioceses across the country to preserve documents related to abuse.”
Such an action by the DOJ was truly unprecedented — essentially subjecting an entire religious organization to a nationwide federal racketeering investigation.
Why Was the Catholic Church Being Targeted?
Public Advocate has long supported, and indeed urged, the prosecution of those who sexually abuse minors, but something about this case didn’t smell right. We decided to use the Freedom of Information Act to get more information.
At the same time, the Catholic League was asking “[i]f all it takes is one molester to trigger this avalanche of investigations, why is it that every other institution in Pennsylvania, beginning with the public schools, is free from scrutiny?” The organization surmised that “[w]e have one system of justice for the Catholic Church and one for everyone else.”
Public Advocate was not aware of the Catholic League’s position at the time, but we were asking the same questions.
For a presidential administration that seemed so keen on protecting religious liberties, we wanted to know why federal prosecutors under Attorney General Bill Barr were targeting only the Catholic Church, despite widespread reports of similar sexual abuse of children by other institutions.
Public Advocate’s FOIA Request
To determine if the Department of Justice was targeting Catholics in particular, on Nov. 29, 2018, Public Advocate submitted a FOIA request to DOJ, asking for records about any DOJ investigations into other groups and organizations that reportedly have engaged in cover-ups of large amounts of sexual abuse of minors.
First, Public Advocate asked about federal investigations into the Boy Scouts, which for years has been subject to scrutiny for unreported child abuse, including reports of adult male Boy Scout leaders who “molested boys over a long period, despite persistent reports of [the] offenses.”
Indeed, it is alleged that these reports have been deliberately kept hidden by the organization, quite similar to what was alleged against the Catholic Church. For example, the Boy Scouts is reported to have kept under wraps “perversion files” chronicling “the expulsion of 1,247 Scout volunteers … nationwide from 1965 to 1985,” involving nearly 2,400 “files of sexual abuse reports.”
Second, Public Advocate asked for records of federal investigations into sexual abuse in the government’s public school system, where abuse of minors is reported regularly.
The Associated Press has reported that “[s]exual misconduct plagues US schools” and that AP’s “seven-month investigation found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, voluntarily surrendered or limited … following allegations of sexual misconduct,” but that such abuse is often covered up through strategic use of “settlement deals and signed confidentiality agreements.”
Indeed, the AP noted of the public school system “a deeply entrenched resistance toward recognizing and fighting abuse,” pointing out the “obvious comparisons to sex abuse scandals in other institutions, among them the Roman Catholic Church.”
Third, Public Advocate asked for records of federal investigations into sexual abuse within the religion of Islam.
Just like the allegations against the Catholic Church, the Islamic religion too has been the subject of reports of entrenched (and even institutional) problems with sexual abuse of children. Moreover, it has been reported that cover-ups of abuse in elements of Islam are widespread.
Even adherents to the religion note that, in Islamic cultures, “it’s virtually impossible to talk about the issue of sexual assault … among our Islamic preachers.” As with the Boy Scouts and the public school system, many have “likened the [Islamic] situation to the widespread abuse in the Catholic Church, a religious system that closed ranks.”
Fourth, Public Advocate asked for records of federal investigations into sexual abuse within the foster care system.
Reportedly, “[a]pproximately 530,000 children in the United States live in foster care at any given time.” And, shockingly, “[a] study by John Hopkins University found that children who are in foster care are four times more likely to be sexually abused than other children not in this setting. Additionally, children who are in group homes are 28 times more likely to be abused than children not living in these homes.”
Another source reports that “over 28% of children in New York alone are abused while in ‘the system.’” But even as abuse is rampant, “[i]f a child is removed from a placement, the agency can lose the commission,” and thus the cover-up of abuse is commonplace.
Certainly, it would make sense if the federal prosecutors who were investigating the problem of child sexual abuse being covered up by large institutions would also be investigating all these groups — administering justice in an even-handed way.
But if the federal prosecutors were targeting only Catholics, then the “investigation” just might be in pursuit of some other agenda.
DOJ’s Response to Public Advocate
After more than two years of resisting Public Advocate’s FOIA request about investigations into these other organizations, the DOJ finally responded a few weeks ago.
DOJ’s Criminal Division wrote back to confirm our suspicions, admitting what we already knew — that “no responsive records subject to the FOIA were located.” In other words, there is no federal investigation into child sexual abuse within the Boy Scouts, public schools, Islam or the foster care system.
Thus, it would seem that the federal government targeted the Catholic Church alone while ignoring identical charges of sexual abuse of children by other institutions.
You may be wondering whether the investigation into the Catholic Church led to any results. Did the facts uncovered by the investigation live up to the favorable stories that the media obediently wrote when they received the DOJ news releases? Apparently not.
The Associated Press recently reported that the “DOJ probe of Catholic church abuse goes quiet 2 years later.” The AP noted that the tenure of the U.S. attorney involved in the case “likely nears its end with President-elect Joe Biden” and that “there’s no sign that any sweeping church indictment is afoot.” Rather, “the case has yielded a single arrest: an 82-year-old defrocked priest, Robert Brennan, charged with lying to FBI agents who showed up at his door.”
So in the end, what conclusions can we reach from the public boasts by the federal prosecutors and what the DOJ has now been forced to reveal about what was really going on, only after years of being pressed?
First and foremost, sexual abuse of children has been and remains one of the great stains on our nation. As to why state and local governments allow such crimes to continue, one can only speculate, but none of the reasons that come to mind speak well of government at any level.
Second, this case demonstrates the danger of giving the federal government vast powers like the RICO statute to respond to one problem (i.e., the mob), which powers are later used to target others (i.e., a church).
Government only accumulates powers; it never returns them to the people. None of the new powers demanded by the federal government after 9/11 have been terminated.
That certainly is no surprise, as the powers given to the DOJ during World War I are also still on the books, waiting to be used against those who the DOJ considers to be “an enemy of the state.” Americans must be aware of entrusting the federal government with any new powers, as one day they may be used against anyone, including you.
Lastly, in our constitutional republic, the means used by government — not just the results obtained — matter. The Constitution must not be shredded even to prosecute the worst criminals, and the Constitution’s 10th Amendment leaves authority to investigate and prosecute sexual abuse crimes with state and local officials — not the federal government.
So when Americans see federal prosecutors putting out news releases about their great deeds in areas traditionally reserved for state and local law enforcement, we should view these prosecutors as usurpers, not heroes.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.