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New York DA Planning Groundbreaking Grand Jury to Look Into Sex Abuse by
By Diego Ibarguen
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - Expressing concern about a possible cover-up by Long Island's Roman
Catholic diocese, a district attorney Thursday announced 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 District Attorney 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.
The grand jury, 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.
Diocese spokeswoman Joanne Novarro said Thursday that she was "puzzled" by Spota's
comments. "We've been cooperating all along and we've said we're going to cooperate with
the grand jury," she said.
Patrick Scully, a spokesman for the Catholic League, said that as long as the grand jury
follows "normal legal means," he does not anticipate any problems. "The problem comes
when something becomes an extraordinary means to go after priests," he said.
In developments elsewhere Thursday:
- Police in Fresno, Calif., dismissed a mentally ill woman's claim that she was molested 32
years ago by Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony. Lt. Dwayne Johnson said there was no
physical evidence or witnesses to support the allegation made last month by the 51-year-old
woman who said she had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. Mahony, who
revealed the accusation, denied it.
- A poll released by Quinnipiac University found 60 percent of Massachusetts Catholics
surveyed believe Cardinal Bernard Law should resign because of his handling of sexual abuse
cases involving priests; 27 percent said they didn't believe Law should resign; and 13 percent
didn't know or didn't answer. The poll of 252 Catholics had a margin of error of 6 percentage
- In a change of policy, the Diocese of Camden, N.J., said it told prosecutors in three
counties the names of seven nonactive priests accused of sexual abuse. All the accusers
were minors at the time but older when they reported it. Some of the cases are decades old,
said a church spokesman.
- The Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco said it is cooperating fully with a district
attorney's request for 75 years worth of personnel records, but noted child molestation isn't
unique to the Catholic church. Spokesman Maurice Healy said the probe "should not be a
case of religious profiling."