New York latest to launch probe of church sex abuse records

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The New York State Office of the Attorney
General is the latest to announce that it is launching an investigation of sexual
abuse of minors by Catholic Church clergy, and at least two of the state’s
eight dioceses confirmed receiving subpoenas seeking access to its records.  

In a Sept. 6 press release, the agency said it was seeking “a
civil investigation into how the dioceses and other church entities — which
are nonprofit institutions — reviewed and potentially covered up allegations
of extensive sexual abuse of minors.” Several news agencies, including The New
York Times and The Associated Press, reported on Sept. 6 that subpoenas had
been sent to New York’s eight dioceses: Albany, Buffalo, New York, Brooklyn,
Ogdensburg, Rochester, Rockville Centre and Syracuse.  

The state’s Attorney General, Barbara D. Underwood, also announced
a hotline the same day, specifically for those who may have been abused by

Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the
Archdiocese of New York, said in a Sept. 6 email to Catholic News Service that “while
we have just received a subpoena, it is not a surprise to us that the Attorney
General would look to begin a civil investigation, and she will find the
Archdiocese of New York, and the other seven dioceses in the state, ready and
eager to work together with her in the investigation.”

Zwilling said that since 2002, the archdiocese has shared
with the state’s previous district attorneys “all information they have sought
concerning allegations of sexual abuse of minors and has established excellent
working relationships with each of them.”

“Not only do we provide any information they seek, they also
notify us as well when they learn of an allegation of abuse, so that, even if
they cannot bring criminal charges, we might investigate and remove from
ministry any cleric who has a credible and substantiated allegation of abuse,”
he said.

The attorney general’s office said it had taken a cue from the
state of Pennsylvania and its probe for records that resulted in an Aug. 14 grand
jury report detailing claims of sexual abuse of minors by clergy going back 70
years. Though the report identified more than 1,000 sex abuse claims, in
Pennsylvania, only two cases resulted in prosecutions because the statute of
limitations had expired in the majority of cases.

“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,” said New York’s Underwood.

She added that New York may face a similar scenario to Pennsylvania
when it comes to prosecuting any cases since “many cases of abuse may not be
prosecutable given New York’s statutes of limitations.”

The Diocese of Albany in a statement released Sept. 6 said
it had contacted the Albany District Attorney’s office, inviting its officials “to
review our records and look at how sexual abuse cases have been handled
historically in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, to what extent survivors
were heard and believed, what processes were followed, and what consequences
resulted.” The letter was addressed to parishioners.

In an email to CNS, Albany’s Director of Communications Mary
DeTurris Poust confirmed that the diocese had received a subpoena, adding that
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger said “we have to do
what is right, even if it is not easy.”

“As Bishop Scharfenberger stated in his letter to the people
of our diocese, when he made the decision to ask Albany District Attorney David
Soares to review our records, we believe that only by shining a light on
whatever might be hidden can we bring about true healing for survivors and for
our church,” she said in the email.

In Buffalo, where the diocese has been dealing with fallout following
a series of television news reports that said Bishop Richard J. Malone did not
remove two priests from ministry after receiving abuse allegations, George
Richert, director of communications, said the office would work with state

“Our diocese will cooperate with any investigation initiated
by the New York State Attorney General or District Attorney,” he said in an
email to CNS.

Under New York law, only district attorneys can refer evidence to grand
juries to investigate criminal complaints and recommend prosecution, as long as
the potential charges meet the statute of limitations, according to the New
York County Lawyers Association website.

A day before New York announced its probe, the Attorney
General of Nebraska asked the state’s three dioceses for sex abuse records
going back 40 years.

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