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Attorney General Launches Statewide Investigation Into Catholic Dioceses Handling of Sex Abuse Cases

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The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on March 12, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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The California Attorney General's Office has launched a statewide investigation into Catholic Dioceses over the handling of child sexual abuse allegations -- a broader inquiry than was first known.

A spokesman for the California Catholic Conference confirmed Friday that all 12 Catholic dioceses in California were mailed letters from the AG's office this week, instructing them to either preserve or hand over documents related to abuse handling.

In a written statement to LAist/KPCC, Tracey Kincaid, communications director for the Diocese of Orange, said the inquiry is welcomed.

"The California Attorney General's Office has advised Catholic Dioceses within the State of California that it is reviewing their handling of allegations of abuse of minors," Kincaid said. "The Diocese of Orange is voluntarily and fully cooperating with this important work, consistent with its unwavering commitment to transparency and justice."

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The Diocese of San Bernardino's Spokesman John Andrews confirmed receiving a letter from the Attorney General. "But it did not request that we produce documents related to child abuse reporting law, as was requested of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles," Andrews said. "In our letter, we were asked to preserve these documents, in case they are requested in the future."

Child abuse survivors and legal advocates cheered Friday's announcement.

"It's about damn time that we get a look into what really has happened and how they've handled it," said Manny Vega, who says he's been pushing for a statewide investigation after experiencing sex abuse by a priest in Los Angeles as a child. "Because time and time again, the Church has failed at every level. They have a systemic problem within the Catholic Church of not being able to tell the truth. Hopefully this gets us closer to the truth."

The Los Angeles Archdiocese, the largest Catholic jurisdiction in the country, has paid out more than $740 million in clergy abuse settlements, in cases related to specific predator priests.

But Mike Reck, an attorney with Jeff Anderson and Associates who represents clergy abuse victims, said California's investigation won't just hold abusers accountable, but the church leaders who protected them.

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"It's not just focusing on individual perpetrators," Reck said. "It is scrutinizing the coverup and the conspiracy of silence at the highest levels."

News of the expanded inquiry comes after the Los Angeles Times first reported that Attorney General Xavier Becerra wrote a letter the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles dated Thursday requesting that church officials preserve documents.

In November, Becerra invited clergy abuse victims from across the state to come forward with information.

A spokesperson from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles also confirmed the attorney general's review and pledged to cooperate.

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Becerra's press office declined to comment.

UPDATES:

5:15 p.m.: This article was updated with additional reporting.

This article was originally published at 1:45 p.m.