Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Amid Warrant for Files, Houston Chancery Has(n't) Been Raided

Eleven years ago this week, the eyes of American Catholicism were on the South, as the church's epochal ascent in Texas was capped by the region's first-ever red hat.

Now, with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo leading the US bishops through the bench's signal crisis of its modern history, another sign of the times hit Houston Chancery this morning, as the home-base of the 1.8 million-member fold was served with a search warrant by Texas Rangers, joined by a wider horde of law-enforcement officials sent by a local prosecutor.

To be clear, early indications are that the search is limited in scope – the order for files issued by the district attorney of one of the ten counties that comprise the Galveston-Houston archdiocese (and not its demographic core in Harris County, at that), jurisdictional issues are bound to arise quickly. Accordingly, in the broad sweep of things, the significance of today's move is more symbolic than anything – and to a staggering degree, at that.

With at least 14 states and the District of Columbia already under statewide probes – not to mention the even more seismic launch by the US Department of Justice of what could become a nationwide investigation – the civil sweep of the South's most prominent local church nonetheless adds the home base of the USCCB president to a list of Stateside outposts under inquest that already included the bulk of the nation's 15 largest dioceses (by size, New York, Chicago, Brooklyn, Rockville Centre, Miami, Newark, Philadelphia and Detroit), encompassing well over a third of American sees in total, and now brings the specter of the ongoing crisis into the place which has represented the Stateside church's most marked growth and vibrance over the last quarter-century.

In response to this morning's development, the following statement has just emerged from Houston Chancery:
"This morning, the District Attorney of Montgomery County executed a search warrant for records and information related to an ongoing investigation. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston continues to cooperate, as we have since the outset, with this process. In fact, consistent with Cardinal DiNardo’s pledge of full cooperation, the information being sought was already being compiled. Also, “secret archives” is merely a Church term pertaining to confidential documents kept in a secure manner for the protection of the privacy of individuals — not unlike medical records. Pending additional information or developments, the Archdiocese will have no further comment on this ongoing investigation. Finally, please note any use of the term “raid” is an inaccurate and unprofessional reference to a request for records to a party that has been cooperating and will continue to cooperate fully."
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On a related note, as this morning's news now means that investigations of one sort or another are underway in five of the six largest states, it might seem that the one glaring exception to date is California – led by the 5 million-member behemoth in Los Angeles (the biggest local church American Catholicism has ever known), home to one-sixth of the nation's 75 million faithful all told.

Despite the appearance, however, Whispers ops on the ground out West have been on high alert for weeks in anticipation that the files of the Golden State's dozen dioceses will likely be subpoenaed by Attorney General Xavier Becerra for a statewide probe. Though that step hasn't yet been taken, Becerra's office recently launched a webpage to solicit "information from the public" on clergy sex-abuse cases.

Having already spent in excess of $1 billion to settle lawsuits – topped by LA's $660 million payout in 2007, still by far the largest deal ever reached by a US diocese – a legislative attempt at a second "window" suspending the civil statute of limitations (15 years since a prior opened the floodgates) was vetoed earlier this month by departing Gov. Jerry Brown. Yet with the onetime Jesuit scholastic set to leave office in January, Democratic Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom is reportedly in favor of the legislation.

Developing – more to come.

SVILUPPO: A later update.