State attorney general subpoenas Rockville Centre, 7 other dioceses

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New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood. (Courtesy of state Attorney General's office)

Following a bombshell grand jury report on the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania, New York has followed suit with its own civil investigation into sex abuse by members of the clergy.

Eight New York dioceses — including the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which oversees 1.5 million Catholics in Nassau and Suffolk counties — confirmed that they received subpoenas from Attorney General Barbara Underwood.

“We have received a subpoena and we are in the process of reviewing it with counsel,” said Sean Dolan, the director of communications for the diocese. “The Diocese of Rockville Centre has long cooperated with local law enforcement authorities in reporting and investigating child sexual abuse and we anticipate that such cooperation will continue.”

The investigation is looking into how the diocese reviewed allegations of sexual abuse of minors and whether they were covered up, according to a statement released Thursday from the state attorney general’s office.

The New York investigation follows a grand jury report that we released in Pennsylvania last month. The report detailed the alleged sexual abuse of at least 1,000 children by 300 priests over a 70-year period, although most of the alleged abuses occurred before 1990.

The attorney general also announced on Thursday the creation of a clergy abuse hotline where anyone with information can file a complaint, upon which it will be investigated by the state. Complaints can be submitted online at ag.ny.gov/ClergyAbuse or by calling 1-800-771-7755. In the statement, the attorney general’s office said it would seek to protect the identities of victims and witnesses.

“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 a 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.”

Underwood will be working with the various district attorneys — the only entities that currently have the power to convene grand juries to investigate the abuses — to investigate the allegations and prosecute the cases that are within the statute of limitations.

A spokeswoman for Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said she could not comment on the specifics of Singas’ role within the state investigation.

In her statement, Underwood also called for the passage of the Child Victims Act, which would give victims the ability to file civil suits until age 50 and seek criminal charges until age 28.

Under current law, child victims only have until age 23 to file civil cases or bring criminal charges.

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,” Underwood said.

The law passed the state Assembly earlier this year but died in the Senate. It is opposed by the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Jewish community and the Boy Scouts of America.

The Catholic Church has faced increasing pressure in the past few weeks to address the growing abuse scandal. Pope Francis recently faced accusations that he had ignored allegations of abuse against Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington.

The accusation — made by former Vatican ambassador to the United States Carlo Maria Viganò, who called on the pope to resign — prompted a letter from Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, the president of the United States Conference of Bishops, calling for an investigation and a better handling of complaints. That letter was supported by the Bishop John Barres, the head of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

The population of New York state is 34 percent Catholic, according to a report by the Washington Post. Only New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have a higher percentage.

In addition to New York and Pennsylvania, four other states — New Jersey, Nebraska, Illinois, and Missouri — have announced they will investigate clergy sex abuse of children.

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