New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood subpoenaed every one of the eight Roman Catholic dioceses in the state Thursday as part of a civil investigation into the church’s growing sex abuse and cover-up scandal.
In a series of tweets, Underwood explained that her office is “seeking to partner with DAs across the state to investigate and—where warranted—undertake viable criminal prosecutions.” She also released a hotline where victims can report abuse.
We have launched a civil investigation into how the Catholic Church reviewed & potentially covered up allegations of extensive sexual abuse in NY.— NY AG Underwood (@NewYorkStateAG) September 6, 2018
We are also seeking to partner with DAs across the state to investigate and—where warranted—undertake viable criminal prosecutions.
Church leaders have reportedly agreed to work with Underwood’s civil investigation along with any potential criminal investigations.
“Our diocese will cooperate with any investigation initiated by the New York Attorney General or district attorney,” George Richert, a spokesman for the Buffalo diocese commented.
Underwood’s civil investigation comes on the heels of a shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report that detailed over 1,000 instances of sexual abuse by 300 priests and cover-ups by bishops.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, is facing serious calls to resign after he was accused by the report of covering the abusive behavior of predatory priests during his time as bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006.
This includes allowing a child molesting priest to remain in active ministry and arranging a settlement agreement requiring two brothers to keep quiet about their abuse by a priest while sending payments to that priest after he was released from prison.
He initially denied wrongdoing in his handling of the cases but has since partially apologized for any “errors in judgment.” Last Sunday he was confronted by protestors during a mass in D.C., including one man who yelled “shame on you” and walked out during the homily. Wuerl’s name was removed from a high school in Pittsburgh and there have been many high profile calls for his resignation.
He submitted his mandatory resignation letter when he turned 75 in 2015 but Pope Francis has yet to accept it. Wuerl met with the pope last week to discuss the scandal but reportedly still has no plans to resign.
The grand jury report also came after a host of allegations against former Washington archbishop Theodore McCarrick, including that he molested a teenager. McCarrick resigned his position and has been removed from public ministry pending a full investigation.
Pope Francis is facing scrutiny over his response – or lack thereof – to these scandals especially after his former apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò accused him of knowing about and ignoring sanctions placed on then-Cardinal McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI due to his sexual misconduct with seminarians.
Viganò stated in a bombshell letter in August that the pope did “not take into account the sanctions that Pope Benedict had imposed on" McCarrick and made him “his trusted counselor” who advised the appointment of many bishops in the United States, including Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Joseph Tobin of Newark.
The pope said he would not say a “single word” on the accusations and refused to even answer a question about when he first knew of McCarrick’s behavior. He asked journalists to read Viganò’s letter and make their own conclusions.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement that Viganò’s claims "deserve answers" and that he is seeking a papal audience on the matter.
In light of the Vatican’s shocking silence on the sexual abuse scandal and cover-up, some groups of Catholics are calling for external investigations into the church’s handling of these matters similar to what Underwood is undertaking.