The New York attorney general has issued civil subpoenas for all eight Catholic dioceses in the state as part of a civil investigation into how the dioceses and other parts of the church reviewed and potentially covered up allegations of the sexual abuse of minors, according to a source close to the investigation.
The news comes several weeks after a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing decades of sexual abuse by “predator priests” reignited a firestorm in the global church, prompting inquiries in other states by church and secular officials.
The office of New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood announced the civil investigation Thursday in a statement, which said the office’s Charities Bureau launched the investigation. The dioceses and other parts of the church function as non-profits.
District attorneys are the only entities in New York with the power to convene grand juries and pursue criminal charges for alleged abuse still within the statute of limitations. Last month, the attorney general’s office announced it sought to partner with district attorneys on potential criminal action.
In response to receiving the subpoena, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York said “it is not a surprise” Underwood’s office would begin an investigation, and that the archdiocese and the other seven dioceses were “ready and eager” to cooperate.
“Since 2002, the archdiocese has shared with its 10 District Attorneys all information they have sought concerning allegations of sexual abuse of minors, and has established excellent working relationships with each of them,” Joseph Zwilling, the archdiocese’s director of communications, said in a statement.
Zwilling added the district attorneys would share allegations of abuse with the archdiocese in cases in which the state can’t bring charges, so the church could conduct its own investigations and remove anyone “who has a credible and substantiated allegation of abuse.”
“We look forward to reviewing the subpoena,” Zwilling said, “and working with the attorney general.”
New York starts hotline for victims and witnesses
The office also announced on Thursday a hotline and online form for victims or witnesses of sexual abuse at the hands of priests within the New York dioceses of the Catholic Church.
“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,” Underwood said in the statement. “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.”
“I urge all victims and anyone else with information to contact our hotline,” Underwood added.
Underwood’s office said an investigator would “review all allegations,” and that law enforcement would “seek to protect victims’ and witnesses’ identities.”
Many of the cases and allegations of abuse may not be able to be prosecuted, the office stressed, because of New York’s statute of limitations. Right now, victims only have until the age of 23 to pursue civil cases or criminal charges for “most types of child sexual abuse,” according to the attorney general’s office.
Some more serious crimes don’t have a time limit, but only if the alleged abuse took place during or after 2001.
New Jersey announces investigative task force
New Jersey’s attorney general also announced Thursday his office would form a task force to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by clergy and any attempted cover-ups.
Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal appointed Robert D. Laurino, the former acting Essex County prosecutor and an “experienced sex crimes prosecutor,” to lead the task force, which will report to the director of the state’s Division of Criminal Justice, the office said in a statement.
“I was deeply troubled to read the allegations contained in last month’s Pennsylvania grand jury report,” Grewal said in the statement. “The report revealed that sexual assaults on children — and efforts to cover up such assaults — were far more widespread in Pennsylvania than we ever thought possible.”
“We owe it to the people of New Jersey to find out whether the same thing happened here,” he said. “If it did, we will take action against those responsible.”
According to the press release, the task force will review agreements between the state’s Catholic dioceses and law enforcement, in which the dioceses were told to create policies “to ensure that their leaders and employees report information to prosecutors about potential cases of sexual abuse” within the church.
The task force will examine whether the dioceses have complied with those agreements, as laid out in a memorandum of understanding in 2002.