The attorneys general for New York and New Jersey on Thursday opened investigations of the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of sex abuse allegations against clergymen, establishing hotlines to gather information.
The New York and New Jersey probes join a growing list of similar investigations launched in the wake of a Pennsylvania grand jury report last month that accused 301 priests of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children and church leaders of covering up the crimes over several decades.
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood issued subpoenas to all eight of the state’s Catholic dioceses seeking any and all documents pertaining to allegations, findings from internal church investigations and payments to victims, according to a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation but not authorized to speak publicly, The Associated Press reported.
Church leaders confirmed receipt of the subpoenas and vowed to work with Ms. Underwood’s civil investigation and any potential criminal probe. The subpoenas were issued to the Archdiocese of New York in New York City as well as the dioceses of Albany, Brooklyn, Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Ogdensburg and Rockville Centre.
“I urge all victims and anyone else with information to contact our hotline. And make no mistake: the only way that justice can fully and truly be served is for the legislature to finally pass the Child Victims Act,” Ms. Underwood said Thursday in a statement.
The Attorney General Charities Bureau will be handling the investigation into New York churches, she announced in a press release.
“The Pennsylvania grand jury report shined a light on incredibly disturbing and depraved acts by Catholic clergy, assisted by a culture of secrecy and cover ups in the dioceses. Victims in New York deserve to be heard as well — and we are going to do everything in our power to bring them the justice they deserve,” Ms. Underwood said.
The press release emphasized that while all victims are welcomed to come forward with their claims, not all cases will be prosecuted because of statutes of limitations.
Currently, only persons age 23 or younger can pursue criminal or civil cases. Some of the most serious allegations do not have a criminal charge expiration date, if they occurred in 2001 or thereafter.
In New Jersey, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced a new task force that will look at how abuse allegations were handled in the seven dioceses in that state.
Ms. Underwood and Ms. Grewal also announced hotlines for persons to report allegations of clergy abuse. The numbers are (855) 363-6548 in New Jersey and (800) 771-7755 in New Jersey. New York has also set up a confidential online complaint form that can be found at ag.ny.gov/ClergyAbuse.
The announcements came after attorneys general in Nebraska, Illinois and Missouri recently announced their own probes of alleged sexual abuse by clergy and/or coverups by church leaders.
The Pennsylvania grand jury report’s revelation shook the Catholic Church, with many members demanding the priests face legal or canonical punishment.
Both Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, and Pope Francis face accusations of covering up clergy abuse.
Cardinal Wuerl was bishop of Pittsburgh for 16 years, and was cited in the report for facilitating coverups by transferring predator priests and downplaying allegations against them while also trying establish some form of accountability and transparency in the handling of such charges.
Carlo Maria Vigano, a former Vatican official, has called for Francis’ resignation, accusing the pope of knowing about and covering sex abuse allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who preceded Cardinal Wuerl as archbishop of Washington. Archbishop McCarrick has resigned as a cardinal and awaits a canonical hearing on the decades-old allegations against him.
The Vatican has declined to comment on allegations against the pope, but said the revelations were “reprehensible.”
“Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The Church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur,” said Greg Burke, director of the Holy See Press Office, in a statement.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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