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N.Y. Grand Jury to Focus on Priest Sex Abuse Cases

April 12, 2002|From Times Wire Services

NEW YORK — Expressing concern about a possible cover-up by Long Island's Roman Catholic diocese, a district attorney said Thursday he was convening a special grand jury to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by priests and how the allegations were handled by the church.

"From what we have received by way of information so far, it does appear that there has been a cover-up," Suffolk County Dist. Atty. Thomas Spota said.

"The grand jury is being formed because of the serious allegations of sexual misconduct by accused priests," Spota said. "The time has come to investigate not only that matter, but what the Diocese of Rockville Centre has done."

Under New York law, grand juries can subpoena evidence and witnesses, issue indictments or find that subjects did not break the law.

In a related development, the Diocese of Brooklyn said it would give the district attorneys of Brooklyn and Queens today the names of local priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors over the last 20 years.

The number of priests to be named is not known because files are still being examined, Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for Bishop Thomas Daily, said Thursday.

The Long Island grand jury, scheduled to be convened within weeks, is considered a bold step in the growing examination of the church's handling of allegations of sexual abuse of minors at the hands of priests. Legal experts say it would be the first special grand jury convened solely for the purpose of conducting a broad examination of sexual abuse allegations against clergy.

"This is the first time I'm aware of in the country that a prosecutor has had the moral courage to investigate," said Michael Dowd, a New York attorney who has represented several sexual abuse victims. "This is a grand jury that is hopefully looking, if it's justified, to indicting higher-ups or the diocese itself as an institution."

The Diocese of Rockville Centre serves 1.5 million Catholics in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Bishop William Murphy turned over information on abuse cases to the counties' district attorneys last month.

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