New Jersey authorities will investigate not only charges of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic Church but also any attempts by their superiors at covering it up, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced Thursday.
“No person is above the law and no institution is immune from accountability,” Grewal said, noting that a special task force will issue subpoenas compelling priests and church officials to testify and surrender documents.
Grewal has appointed an experienced sex crimes prosecutor to head a team of detectives and prosecutors from across the state who will collect and present evidence to a state grand jury.
Former Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino will report directly to Veronica Allende, the director of the state Division of Criminal Justice, the attorney general said.
To help identify potential victims, Grewal also established a new dedicated hotline to report allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy: 855-363-6548 .
The toll-free hotline will be staffed by trained professionals and operate on a 24/7 basis, he said.
In addition, the task force will review existing agreements between the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey and state law enforcement, the attorney general said.
Each of the state’s dioceses entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Attorney General’s Office and various county prosecutors’ offices after the Catholic Church scandal of 2002, said Grewal, a former federal prosecutor from Glen Rock who was Bergen County's prosecutor before taking his current position.
The dioceses agreed to establish policies and procedures ensuring that “their leaders and employees report information to prosecutors about potential cases of sexual abuse within their churches and cooperate in any resulting law enforcement investigations,” Grewal said.
“As part of the efforts announced today, the task force will determine whether the dioceses complied with the MOUs’ mandatory reporting requirements and whether any additional action is necessary,” he added.
As Daily Voice reported last month, a no-holds-barred account of sex abuse got a once-popular Ridgefield Park priest removed from his current position.
The Rev. Gerald Sudol took a leave of absence as reverend in residence at Our Lady of Czestochowa Catholic Church in Jersey City amid an investigation by the Archdiocese of Newark into allegations of sexual abuse while he was at St. Francis of Assisi Church.
Another local priest -- the Rev. Jim Weiner, pastor of St. Andrew's Church in Westwood -- also has taken a leave amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Both of their leaves, like Grewal's announcement, follow the recent bombshell report issued by a Pennsylvania grand jury that found more than 1,000 victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in that state over a 70-year period.
Grewal emphasized that the Pennsylvania grand jury also detailed allegations of a cover-up by church leaders and accusations of sexual abuse against at least four priests who spent part of their ministries in New Jersey.
“I was deeply troubled to read the allegations contained in last month’s Pennsylvania grand jury report,” the attorney general said. “The report revealed that sexual assaults on children – and efforts to cover up such assaults – were far more widespread in Pennsylvania than we ever thought possible.
“We owe it to the people of New Jersey to find out whether the same thing happened here. If it did, we will take action against those responsible,” he said.
“We want victims to know that we stand ready to investigate their cases and will do everything in our power to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice,” said Allende, the DCJ director. “The key is obtaining adequate evidence.
“We urge anyone with information about sexual abuse by members of the clergy to contact us confidentially through our new hotline.”
MORE INFO: www.nj.gov/oag/clergy-abuse
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