The Diocese of Rochester has received a subpoena as part of New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s civil investigation into the sexual abuse of children in the state’s eight Catholic dioceses.
“We have received the Attorney General’s subpoena and are reviewing it,” began a Sept. 6 statement from the diocese.
“We have a longstanding policy of cooperation with law enforcement and certainly it will continue in this process. We encourage all victims to report to civil authorities. We report to civil authorities allegations of the sexual abuse of a minor,” the statement continued.
The diocesan statement also highlighted a detailed list of diocesan initiatives — available at www.dor.org/wp-content/uploads/Update-on-Safe-Environment-Efforts2018.pdf — to protect children.
A Sept. 6 statement from the attorney general’s office said that its Charities Bureau has launched a civil investigation into how the state’s Catholic dioceses and other church entities — which are nonprofit institutions — “reviewed and potentially covered up allegations of extensive sexual abuse of minors.”
As part of that investigation, Underwood announced Sept. 6 that a clergy-abuse hotline (1-800-771-7755) and an online complaint form (ag.ny.gov/ClergyAbuse) have been established for use by abuse victims and anyone with information about child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
According to Catholic News Service, Underwood’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 Pennsylvania report identified more than 1,000 sex abuse claims, only two of those cases resulted in prosecutions because the statute of limitations had expired in the majority of cases.
She added that a scenario similar to that of Pennsylvania may play out when it comes to prosecuting cases since “many cases of abuse may not be prosecutable given New York’s statutes of limitations.”
Catholic News Service also spoke with representatives of several of the state’s other dioceses, who said they also are cooperating with the attorney general’s investigation.
Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese of New York, said in a Sept. 6 e-mail to CNS 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.
Similarly, the dioceses of Syracuse and Brooklyn, said they will cooperate and that over the years they have collaborated with law enforcement and respective agencies investigating sex abuse cases.
“In 2002, the Diocese of Brooklyn handed over all allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or deacon, to the district attorneys in Brooklyn and Queens,” the diocese said in a statement.
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 e-mail 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 from a series of television news reports allegations that Bishop Richard J. Malone did not remove two priests from ministry in the wake of abuse claims, George Richert, director of communications, said the office would work with state officials.
“Our diocese will cooperate with any investigation initiated by the New York State Attorney General or District Attorney,” he said in an e-mail to CNS.
Under New York law, only district attorneys can refer evidence to grand juries to investigate criminal complaints and recommend prosecution of potential charges that meet the statute of limitations, according to the New York County Lawyers Association website.
Underwood’s office joined a growing movement of state entities in early September seeking records documenting past sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. 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. New Jersey officials also announced on Sept. 6 the creation of a task force with subpoena power through a grand jury to investigate allegations at the state’s Catholic dioceses.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Any victim of sexual abuse by clergy or other church personnel is encouraged by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester to contact civil authorities. To receive help and guidance from the diocese, contact Deborah Housel, victim assistance coordinator, at 585-328-3210, ext. 1555, or toll-free 1-800-388-7177, ext. 1555, or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.