From Michigan to New Mexico this month, state attorneys general are sifting through millions of records on clergy sex abuse, seized through search warrants and subpoenas at dozens of archdioceses, the Associated Press reports. They’re looking to prosecute, and not just priests. If the boxes lining the hallways of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s offices contain enough evidence, she is considering using state racketeering laws usually reserved for organized crime. Prosecutors in Michigan are volunteering on weekends to get through all the documents as quickly as possible. For decades, leaders of the Roman Catholic Church were largely left to police their own. As American bishops gather for a conference to confront the reignited sex-abuse crisis this week, they’re facing the most scrutiny ever from secular law enforcement.
An Associated Press query of more than 20 state and federal prosecutors found they are looking for legal means to hold higher ups in the church accountable for sex abuse. They have raided diocesan offices, subpoenaed files, set up victim tip lines and launched sweeping investigations into decades-old allegations. Thousands of people have called hotlines nationwide, and five priests have recently been arrested. “Some of the things I’ve seen in the files makes your blood boil, to be honest with you,” Nessel said. “When you’re investigating gangs or the Mafia, we would call some of this conduct a criminal enterprise.” If a prosecutor applies racketeering laws, known as RICO, against church leaders, bishops and other church officials could face criminal consequences for enabling predator priests. Such a move by Michigan or one of the other law enforcement agencies would mark the first known time that actions by a diocese or church leader were branded a criminal enterprise akin to organized crime.