The California attorney general's office will review how all 12 Roman Catholic dioceses in the state handled allegations of child sexual abuse that have resulted in payouts of hundreds of millions of dollars to victims.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra sent out letters to the dioceses on Thursday, Sacramento diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery told the Sacramento Bee.
The letters ask diocese to voluntarily preserve documents relating to abuse allegations involving clergy, staffers and volunteers that were received from 1996 to the present. The attorney general's office will look into whether the archdiocese properly reported the allegations under California law.
The request could be the first step toward a full investigation of California dioceses, which serve an estimated 10 million worshippers.
"We intend to comply with both the spirit and the letter of what they're asking for," Eckery said.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced it will cooperate.
Both dioceses said they have taken steps to ensure that suspected sex abuse is reported to law enforcement by priests, teachers and other employees.
"Even those who are not mandated reporters are reminded of the moral obligation to be aware for the signs of child abuse and to report it when there is a reasonable suspicion an abuse has occurred," Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto said in a statement Friday
"The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is committed to transparency and has established reporting and prevention policies and programs to protect minors and support victim-survivors in our parishes, schools and ministries," the archdiocese said in a statement.
Last November, Becerra asked victims of clerical sex abuse to submit complaints to his office.
Many dioceses around the country have been hit with lawsuits and accusations that sex abuse by clergy and others was ignored or swept under the rug.
The Los Angeles archdiocese, which covers Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, has paid a record $740 million in settlements to victims. In April, the archdiocese announced an $8 million settlement for a former Catholic school student who was molested by a coach.
Several dioceses in California have released updated counts of priests who had been accused of sexual abuse over decades.
Last year, a grand jury report in Pennsylvania detailed decades of abuse and cover-up in six dioceses, alleging more than 1,000 children had been abused over the years by about 300 priests. Since then, federal prosecutors and attorneys general in several other states have launched investigations.
A report by the Illinois attorney general in December said that 690 clergy members had been accused of sexual abuse, while church officials had only publicly identified 185.
"We think it's a long time coming," Joey Piscitelli, a board member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, told the Bee. "We think it's a bad idea for entities that have a history of covering up child abuse to report on themselves, and that's what they've been doing. They have not been transparent in the past, and they have a history of covering things up."
The California attorney general's office review was praised by Joseph George, a Sacramento attorney. George told the Los Angeles Times that he has worked with abuse survivors to file with the attorney general's office more than 100 reports of abuse involving clergy in Los Angeles, Oakland, Santa Rosa, Fresno, San Diego and Monterrey.
"The hope is that the hierarchy will be held accountable and the conduct will be conveyed to the public," he said. "They keep talking about apologies and evil and mistakes and sins. But what we're really talking about are crimes that were made by more than just bad apples."