Last month, after Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro unveiled a bombshell 1,300-page grand jury report detailing the alleged sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children in his state by hundreds of Catholic priests, American Catholics called for more investigations into church documents. Some even demanded the federal government step in.
Now law enforcement officials in at least seven states — New York, New Jersey, Nebraska, New Mexico, Florida, Missouri and Illinois — appear to be launching their own inquiries or reviews of Catholic dioceses, often focusing on what Shapiro called secret church files thought to contain decades of allegations of child sex abuse by priests.
On Thursday (Sept. 6), The Associated Press reported that New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood has subpoenaed all eight Roman Catholic dioceses in the state to investigate the church’s handling of sex abuse allegations. New York Archdiocese spokesperson Joseph Zwilling later confirmed to Religion News Service that that diocese has received the subpoena and is “ready and eager to work together with (the attorney general) in the investigation.”
Previously, the Diocese of Buffalo told RNS it “will cooperate with any investigation initiated by the New York State Attorney General or District Attorney,” and the Diocese of Albany invited the local district attorney to review its files on Thursday.
The New Jersey attorney general also announced on Thursday the creation of a new task force to investigate Catholic dioceses of New Jersey. According to NJ.com, the body will have subpoena power through a grand jury to compel testimony and demand documents from church officials.
“The (Pennsylvania) 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,” read a statementby New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “We owe it to the people of New Jersey to find out whether the same thing happened here. If it did, we will take action against those responsible.”
Due to differing legal systems from state to state, the investigations promise to be tailored to the varying powers of the states’ attorneys general and the states’ history of investigating abuse claims. Some states’ dioceses have already been investigated or have long-standing agreements with law enforcement.
Nebraska’s attorney general also sent a letter to the state’s three dioceses requesting records going back 40 years, to Jan. 1, 1978. When RNS contacted the Archdiocese of Omaha last week asking about a hypothetical inquiry, the diocese said it would “allow the attorney general to review our files.”
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas unveiled his office’s inquiry on Wednesday evening, sending 10-page letters “in contemplation of litigation” and legal demands to dioceses asking to review any church records related to past or present allegations of sexual abuse.
“(Balderas) has sent investigative demands to all three dioceses in New Mexico requiring full disclosure and full transparency,” David Carl, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, told RNS in an email. “The Catholic Church in New Mexico needs to fully reconcile and support survivors by revealing the magnitude of sexual abuse and subsequent cover up by church leaders in order to restore faith and trust in the community.”
One of those dioceses, the Diocese of Gallup, has already pledged to work with the attorney general.
“We look forward to cooperating with the Attorney General to ensure the safety of all the members of our diocese,” read a statement from the diocese.
SOURCE: Jack Jenkins
Religion News Service