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ALBANY, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood appears to be laying the groundwork for a grand jury investigation into clerical sex abuse and cover-up in the Empire State.
Sources are telling Church Militant that, based on the findings of the Pennsylvania grand jury investigation, various state attorneys general — with Underwood in the lead — are considering launching investigations into clerical sex abuse and cover-up in their own states.
On Thursday, Church Militant contacted the New York attorney general's office to inquire about efforts to expose sexual assault and cover-up in the state's eight Catholic dioceses.
In a statement, Communications Director and Senior Policy Advisor Amy Spitalnick responded by first recognizing Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro for his work on behalf of victims:
Attorney General Underwood commends Pennsylvania Attorney General Shapiro on his investigative grand jury report, which was the result of two years of rigorous investigation that included the review of over 2 million documents, extensive interviews, and much more. That investigation shined a light on truly disturbing and depraved acts by Catholic priests against hundreds of children, assisted by a culture of secrecy and cover-ups in dioceses across that state.
Spitalnick then confirmed Underwood is ordering criminal investigators into action.
"Victims in New York deserve to be heard as well," she said. "The Attorney General has directed her Criminal Division leadership to reach out to local District Attorneys — who are the only entities that currently have the power to convene a grand jury to investigate these matters — in order to establish a potential partnership on this issue."
Underwood's order will come as unwelcome news to New York chanceries, which have already paid out tens of millions of dollars of parishioners' money to settle sex abuse claims against predator priests.
In the middle of its $200 million "Making All Things New" capital campaign (nicknamed "Making All Things Revenue" by critics), the archdiocese of New York announced last December that, since 2016, it has issued more than $40 million in payouts to almost 200 clerical sex abuse victims.
Hundreds of New York Catholics have come forward with claims they were sexually assaulted by their clergy. But the scale of the catastrophe in Pennsylvania — more than a thousand verifiable victims in a state with just two-thirds the population of New York — suggests that many more have yet to make their voices heard.
In her statement to Church Militant, Spitalnick noted that "the only way justice can fully and truly be served in these cases is if the Legislature passes the Child Victims Act. Victims of abuse deserve their day in court — and justice."
The Child Victims Act is a bill currently on debate in the state legislature. It would extend the statute of limitations for child-sex-abuse victims from age 23 to age 50 and would also establish a one-year "look back" for any victim to bring forward old civil claims — which would remove all statutes of limitations for one year following the passage of the bill.
The measure is fiercely opposed by the New York hierarchy. In March, New York Cdl. Timothy Dolan showed up in Albany unannounced to lobby against the bill, pressing lawmakers to restrict priest sex abuse claims. Dolan has called the measure "strangling" and "toxic," warning it will lead to a surge of new claims against his diocese.
Analysts are suggesting the Pennsylvania grand jury report may prove to be a watershed for the Catholic Church in the United States. The fact that Underwood and other state attorneys general are considering investigations into clerical sex abuse and cover-up signals a deeper purge of the Church is approaching.