Photo Courtesy of Miguel Gutierrez
State Attorney General Barbara Underwood
By Forum Staff
Victims of clergy abuse within the New York dioceses of the Catholic Church and anyone with information regarding such incidents can now call a hotline or fill out an online complaint form, State Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced on Thursday.
Victims and people with information about abuse are encouraged to call (800) 771-7755, or file a complaint at ag.ny.gov/ClergyAbuse.
An investigator will review all allegations, Underwood pledged; and the Attorney General Office and law-enforcement partners will seek to protect victims’ and witnesses’ identities.
Thursday’s announcement is part of the AG’s ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual abuse of children within New York dioceses, and follows last month’s unveiling of the comprehensive findings of a statewide investigative grand jury that spent two years uncovering abuse of children by priests, and a systematic cover up spanning decades by senior church leaders in Pennsylvania and the Vatican.
“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,” Underwood said.
The AG’s Charities Bureau has launched a civil investigation into how the dioceses and other church entities – which are non-profit institutions – reviewed and potentially covered up allegations of extensive sexual abuse of minors.
Additionally, as announced last month, the Attorney General’s Criminal Division is also seeking to partner with district attorneys – which are the only entities that currently have the power to convene grand juries to investigate these matters – to investigate and, if warranted, prosecute any individuals who have committed criminal offenses that fall within the applicable statutes of limitations.
Underwood said that it’s important to note that many cases of abuse may not be prosecutable given New York’s statutes of limitations. However, she added that she encourages any victim of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy to participate in this investigation, even if they believe that their information may be outside the statute of limitations for a court case. All victim information will be helpful to understanding and reforming the institutional approach of the Church, regardless of whether an individual case can be prosecuted.
The New York Attorney General’s Office has repeatedly urged the State Legislature to pass the Child Victims Act, which would allow all victims to file civil suits until age 50 and seek criminal charges until age 28. Under current law, victims only have until age 23 to file civil cases or seek criminal charges for most types of child sexual abuse; some of the most serious child sex crimes have no time limit on the bringing of criminal charges, but only for conduct that occurred in 2001 or later.
“[M]ake 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.