By David Klepper
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood subpoenaed all eight Roman Catholic dioceses in the state Thursday as part of a broadening civil investigation into the handling of sex abuse allegations by church leaders. The investigation includes the Brooklyn Diocese, which serves Queens and Brooklyn.
The subpoenas seek documents related to abuse allegations, payments to victims or findings from internal church investigations.
Church leaders confirmed receipt of the subpoenas and said they would work with Underwood’s civil investigation — as well as any potential criminal investigations to come. The subpoenas were issued to the Archdiocese of New York in New York City as well as the dioceses of Albany, Brooklyn, Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Ogdensburg and Rockville Centre.
“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,” New York archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling said.
In a statement, however, Brooklyn Diocese President Bill Donohue said the grand jury investigation is “manifestly unjust and indefensible” because the state singled out the Catholic church
A spokesperson for the Brooklyn Diocese, which has offices in Douglaston and two locations in Brooklyn did not respond to an inquiry from the Queens Daily Eagle.
“Our diocese will cooperate with any investigation initiated by the New York Attorney General or district attorney,” said George Richert, a spokesperson for the Buffalo diocese.
The subpoenas were issued to the Archdiocese of New York in New York City as well as the dioceses of Albany, Brooklyn, Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Ogdensburg and Rockville Center.
Underwood’s office is pursuing a civil investigation into the church’s response to abuse reports and has also reached out to local prosecutors, who are authorized to convene grand juries or pursue criminal investigations.
The announcement comes three weeks after a grand jury investigation found rampant sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children by about 300 priests in Pennsylvania.
Underwood’s office also announced a hotline – 1-800-771-7755 – for individuals to call to report allegations of clergy abuse, as well as a confidential online complaint form that can be found at ag.ny.gov/ClergyAbuse.
“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 announcing the hotline. “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.”
In New Jersey, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced a new task force that will look at how abuse allegations were handled in the seven dioceses in that state.
Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger proactively asked Albany County District Attorney David Soares to review his diocese’s records on Thursday, before the subpoena from Underwood was received.
“We have to do what is right, even if it is not easy,” Scharfenberger wrote in a letter to parishioners announcing his request.
The subpoenas come three weeks after a grand jury investigation found rampant sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children by about 300 priests in Pennsylvania.
Florida attorney Michael Dolce is an expert on abuse cases and successfully pushed lawmakers in his state to relax the statute of limitations on civil and criminal child sex abuse allegations. He summed up Underwood’s decision to subpoena the state’s dioceses as “huge and welcomed.” Dolce, of the firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, is also abuse survivor.
“It shows a determination to see if what happened in Pennsylvania also happened in New York,” he said. “I shudder to think about what they will find.”
Associated Press reporter Michael Catalini contributed to this report from Trenton, New Jersey. Eagle reporter David Brand contributed to this story.