NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood has subpoenaed all eight Roman Catholic dioceses in the state as part of an investigation into the handling of sex abuse allegations.
The office's Charities Bureau, which oversees nonprofit organizations, is conducting the civil investigation into allegations of sexual abuse of minors in Catholic dioceses. Meanwhile, the office's Criminal Division is working with local district attorneys to potentially prosecute anyone within the dioceses on criminal charges related to sex abuse or cover-up of abuse.
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.
But unlike Pennsylvania, the Attorney General's Office in New York doesn't have the power to convene grand juries without an executive order from the governor's office. So Underwood is working with local district attorneys on the criminal investigations.
One diocese of interest will be the Buffalo Diocese, where there have reports coming out over the past six months of decades of abuse.
The Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Rockville Centre were the subjects of previous grand jury investigations in 2002. Neither report identified priests who molested children by name, nor did the investigations result in any charges.
The subpoenas seek documents relating to abuse allegations, payments to victims or findings from internal church investigations.
"I'm thrilled about this development," said Steve Jimenez, who was repeatedly abused by a Catholic cleric when he was 10 years old.
And he's happy the states of New York and New Jersey are about to start investigating the church to determine how culpable it was in the abuse.
"What has taken these people so long? You're talking about sex crimes against children," said Jimenez.
Church officials say they will cooperate.
The Archdiocese of New York released the following statement:
"While we have just received the 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. Since 2002, the archdiocese has shared with its 10 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. We look forward to reviewing the subpoena, and working with the Attorney General."
Also Thursday, Underwood announced a clergy abuse hotline and online complaint form through which victims and anyone with information can provide information.
Victims and anyone with information about abuse can call the hotline at 1-800-771-7755 or file a complaint online at ag.ny.gov/ClergyAbuse. An investigator will review all allegations, and the attorney general and law enforcement partners will seek to protect the identity of victims and witnesses.
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