In the wake of a shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing child sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests, New York’s attorney general Barbara Underwood has issued subpoenas to seven New York dioceses, along with the archdiocese of New York, questioning ecclesiastical officials about their handling of sexual abuse cases, the Washington Post reports.
New York AG Subpoenas Dioceses Over Sex Abuse
“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 heard as well – and we are going to do everything in our power to bring them the justice they deserve.”
The attorney general’s decision, announced on Thursday, September 6, 2018, makes New York one of the latest states to begin a major inquest into the problem of clergy sexual abuse. Soon after New York’s announcement, New Jersey followed suit, announcing the creation of a criminal task force dedicated to the investigation of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
Albany Bishop Calls For Inquest
Surprisingly, one of New York’s bishops, Albany’s Edward Scharfenberger, actually asked to be investigated. On Thursday, Scharfenberger said in a statement that he had made the extraordinary choice to invite scrutiny because it would be good, in the long run, for his diocese. “So many people have questions about transparency and about the process,” Scharfenberger wrote. “We need a thorough review of our records in order to objectively answer those questions.”
New Hotline For Sexual Abuse Survivors
To assist in its investigation, the attorney general’s office in New York has also started a new hotline for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. New Yorkers with information are urged to call the hotline at 800-771-7755. Online complaints can also be filed at https://ag.ny.gov/ClergyAbuse.
The investigation in New York, proceeding through the civil justice system, is being spearheaded by the attorney general’s Charities Bureau, because the dioceses in question are non-profit organizations. In a separate investigation, the office’s criminal division is currently working in concert with various district attorneys throughout New York State on the creation of grand juries. These grand juries would then be tasked with conducting a full inquest into sexual abuse within New York’s Catholic Church.
Pennsylvania Investigation Stymied By Legal Time Limit
Pennsylvania’s examination of the problem has opened old wounds across the nation, but also found evidence of recent sexual abuse as well. Despite identifying at least 1,000 victims of clergy sexual abuse, Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations – a law that limits survivors from pressing charges or filing civil claims for compensation – has made pursuing justice difficult.
The report identified over 300 priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse, but has only inspired two new sets of criminal charges.
New York Allegations Likely Hampered By Statute Of Limitations
Chances are that any credible allegations dug up by New York’s investigation would suffer the same fate. As currently written, New York’s criminal law only allows sexual abuse survivors until the age of 23 to file a civil lawsuit or press criminal charges.
State lawmakers are currently debating a law, the Child Victims Act, that would extend this statute of limitations, USA Today reports. If passed, the Child Victims Act would grant survivors until their 28th birthday to file criminal charges. Civil lawsuits could be filed until the age of 50. “It would also,” USA Today writes, “open a one-year window for previous cases to be investigated.”
Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report Inspires Other States
Inspired by Pennsylvania’s approach, a number of other states have recently announced investigations of their own. Missouri was the first, announcing in August that it would begin to investigate allegations of child sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Nebraska and New Mexico have announced similar allegations.
On Tuesday, September 4, Attorney General Hector Balderas of New Mexico sent a “demand […] in contemplation of litigation” to bishops within the State, demanding by October 5 all of the Church’s documents concerning sexual bishop. The Pennsylvania grand jury report, Attorney General Balderas writes, is “shaking the conscience of those throughout the world by detailing the vast extent of sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and clerics and the shocking cover-up by church leaders.”