Why so many accused priests never faced trial

As the Catholic Church grapples with an on-going worldwide scandal of clergy-child sex abuse, Fox 5 took a closer look at why accused priests were so often able to avoid criminal prosecution. We found that the church is often reluctant to move forward on these cases but sometimes the accused priests have law enforcement in their corner as well.

"My basketball coach and priest began sexually assaulting me and some of my classmates," said Shaun Dougherty, who lives and works in Long Island City now. But when he 10 and living in Pennsylvania, a Catholic priest repeatedly sexually abused him, he said.

"He worked his way up my thigh and began fondling my genitals," Dougherty said. "When it first happened, you think, 'What was that?'"

Dougherty did not report what he says happened to him until he was an adult, long after Pennsylvania's statute of limitations had expired. The priest he accused was never prosecuted. He moved to another parish and retired.

"It's a very set up system," Dougherty said. "The Catholic Church is very powerful, very connected, very wealthy."

Dougherty's complaint was part of a recent Pennsylvania grand jury report that found decades of rampant sexual abuse of more than a thousand children by 300 priests.

The crimes and the cover-ups in Pennsylvania prompted New York and New Jersey's attorneys general to issue subpoenas  to every Catholic diocese in New Jersey and New York. Both prosecutors also set up hotlines for victims to come forward.

In just a week since the hotline was set up at the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, a spokesman  said, "… the hotline has been receiving a high volume of calls – such that additional staff was assigned to receive calls – and some of the calls are reporting multiple potential victims of abuse."

"Priests who are accused of sex crimes against children don't wind up in the criminal justice system, apparently, because the church doesn't want them to wind up there," said Terence McKiernan, the founder of a nonprofit called bishopaccountabilty.org. The group tracks whether priests who are publically accused of child abuse ever get criminally prosecuted.

"Favoritism is shown in these cases often by police officers who are Catholics themselves and feel a kind of concern for the church and a loyalty to the church," McKiernan said.

The Archdiocese of New York has said it will cooperate fully with the attorney general's subpoenas of records.

The Archdiocese of Newark also plans to help law enforcement in their investigation into this matter.