ALBANY - New York's Attorney General's Office issued subpoenas Thursday to all the Catholic dioceses in the state over how they have handled sexual abuses cases, and the office started a hotline to get tips from the public.
The subpoenas went to the seven dioceses and one archdiocese in New York as Attorney General Barbara Underwood has ordered a civil investigation into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
The tip line will hopefully further the effort, she said, citing rampant abuse recently found in Pennsylvania.
“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.
"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 a statement, a spokesman for the New York archdiocese said it and the state's seven other dioceses will cooperate with Underwood's investigation.
“While we have not yet seen a 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," spokesman Joseph Zwilling said.
The subpoenas are sweeping in their request, seeking information about how any and all allegations of sexual abuse within the church were handled.
The Attorney General's Office is also working with county district attorneys on any potential criminal wrongdoing.
Victims and anyone with information about abuse can call the hotline at (800) 771-7755. They can also file a complaint at ag.ny.gov/ClergyAbuse.
Last month, the office's Charities Bureau launched a civil investigation into how the dioceses and other church entities — which are nonprofits — reviewed or possibly covered up any sexual abuse of minors.
With the help of district attorneys, the Attorney General's Office could also seek criminal prosecution of cases within the church — if they fall within the statute of limitations.
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 when a criminal case can be brought — but only for crimes committed in 2001 or later.
New York is debating whether 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.
It would also open a one-year window for previous cases to be investigated.
But Underwood said that even if a case falls outside the statute of limitations, a person should reach out to her office.
"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," her office said in a statement.
Zwilling, the New York archdiocese spokesman, said the archdiocese has cooperated with district attorneys on various criminal investigations since 2002.
"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," Zwilling said in his statement.
"We look forward to receiving the subpoena, and working with the Attorney General.”