Diocese ‘ready and willing to work together’ on attorney general’s sexual abuse investigation: New York State’s eight Catholic dioceses subpoenaed in civil investigation

By Katherine Long | Editor

The Diocese of Syracuse and the seven other Roman Catholic dioceses of New York State have been subpoenaed by state Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s office as part of a civil investigation into handling of sexual abuse allegations.

Diocese of Syracuse Chancellor and Director of Communications Danielle Cummings confirmed Sept. 6 that the diocese would cooperate fully with the investigation.

“The Diocese of Syracuse has received a subpoena from the Attorney General and is ready and willing to work together on the investigation,” a diocesan statement said.

A Sept. 6 press release from the the Attorney General’s Office stated that its “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.”

“As announced last month, the Attorney General’s Criminal Division is also seeking to partner with District Attorneys — who 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,” the release continued.

The diocese’s statement noted that “a Memorandum of Understanding already exists with the local District Attorneys of the diocese which has proven to be an excellent working relationship with each of them. The District Attorneys have been made aware of any allegation of abuse of a minor and have been provided with the names of those accused along with their status and any information they may request. Bishop Cunningham will continue to work closely with our local District Attorneys and will cooperate fully with the Attorney General’s investigation.”

The memorandum, signed in 2015, was created through a joint effort between the diocese and the district attorneys. It formalized procedures to be followed in all incidents involving alleged sexual misconduct and abuse of minors by clergy and religious in the Diocese of Syracuse and built on a verbal agreement that had been in place for approximately 12 years prior, according to Catholic Sun archives.

The attorney general’s release referenced Pennsylvania’s investigation into six dioceses there, which resulted in an Aug. 14 grand jury report detailing claims of sexual abuse of minors by clergy going back 70 years.

“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 in the release.

Though the Pennsylvania report identified more than 1,000 sex abuse claims, only two cases resulted in prosecutions because the statute of limitations had expired in the majority of cases. The attorney general’s release noted that, in New York, “many cases of abuse may not be prosecutable given New York’s statutes of limitations.”

Elsewhere in the country, the Attorney General of Nebraska on Sept. 5 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.

Catholic News Service contributed to this report.