NEW YORK (FOX5NY.COM) - The attorneys general in New York and New Jersey have launched investigations into sex abuse allegations against Catholic priests.
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood has subpoenaed all eight Roman Catholic dioceses in the state. Her office is pursuing a civil investigation into the church's handling of sex abuse allegations. She has also authorized local prosecutors to convene grand juries to pursue criminal investigations, if necessary.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York said in a statement that the dioceses are "ready and eager to work together with [Underwood] in the investigation."
(The state's eight dioceses are the Archdiocese of New York and the dioceses of Albany, Brooklyn, Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Ogdensburg and Rockville Centre.)
In July, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick resigned and retreated into seclusion after he was accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians when he was the archbishop of Newark.
Then three weeks ago, a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania found that about 300 priests sexually abused more than a thousand children.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the Pennsylvania grand jury report "deeply troubled" him.
"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," he said. "We owe it to the people of New Jersey to find out whether the same thing happened here."
Grewal announced on Thursday that he is launching a criminal task force to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. He appointed Robert Laurino, a former Essex Country prosecutor, to lead the task force, which has the power to impanel a grand jury and issue subpoenas.
The New Jersey Catholic Conference, which represents the bishops of the state's seven dioceses, said it will cooperate with the task force.
(The state's seven dioceses are the Archdiocese of Newark; the dioceses of Trenton, Camden, Paterson, and Metuchen; and the eparchies of Passaic and Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark.)
In a statement, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the archbishop of Newark, designated September 14 as a "Day of Prayer, Fasting and Abstinence" to recognize the sexual abuse of children and adults.
"On this day, we will show our sorrow for what has happened and our solidarity with the survivors, as well as our unshakeable intention never to return our Church to 'business as usual,'" Tobin said in the statement. "I expect all the priests to join me in this Cathedral that evening to beg God's forgiveness and the forgiveness of those who have been abused. I invite all to come and cry out with us: 'Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.'"
Tim Lennon told Fox 5 that when he was 12 his parish priest in Iowa raped and abused him. He is now the president of the board of directors of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
"I think this is a positive step when you have an independent investigation," Lennon said. "We can no longer rely on the church to either protect our children or tell the truth."
Underwood and Grewal established hotlines for reporting allegations of clergy abuse:
NEW YORK – 800-771-7755; ag.ny.gov/clergyabuse
NEW JERSEY – 855-363-6548; nj.gov/oag/clergy-abuse