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New Jersey Launches Investigation Into Clergy Abuse In The State's Catholic Dioceses


The New Jersey attorney general has announced the creation of a special task force that will investigate clergy sexual abuse in that state's Catholic diocese. The task force will also look at any efforts to cover up abuse. The announcement came just hours after news broke that the New York attorney general's office had issued subpoenas to every Catholic diocese in the state. And at least three other states also have investigations underway. Gurbir Grewal is the New Jersey attorney general. He joins us now. Welcome to the program.

GURBIR GREWAL: Good afternoon. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So was your move essentially inspired by what happened in Pennsylvania?

GREWAL: I think the Pennsylvania report really brought to light the scope of the problem that existed - not just in Pennsylvania but across the country. And in light of that report and those findings, we owed it to the victims in that case and to the residents of New Jersey to get to the bottom of this, to make sure that nothing similar happened in New Jersey and that there were no similar cover-ups.

CORNISH: So this task force will be comprised of prosecutors and detectives. I assume it's going to have subpoena power. What are you going to be looking for?

GREWAL: We'll be looking to identify any patterns of abuses by members of the clergy in New Jersey. We'll be looking to see if the diocese here in New Jersey abided by a 2002 memorandum that established protocols by which they should report and investigate sexual abuse cases in their areas of responsibility. So we'll be measuring compliance, and we'll be looking for patterns. And we'll be looking for cover-ups, and we'll be looking to hold people accountable.

CORNISH: Many of the cases detailed in the Pennsylvania report fell outside the statute of limitations. Now, I know New Jersey has a slightly more lenient standard that says that if a victim understands what's happened only later in life, that the statute of limitations is suspended. What does that mean for the chances of investigating cases?

GREWAL: We do have a longer statute of limitations in some criminal cases depending on the facts. That means that we will have more ability to charge cases that in other areas of the country would be out of time. Our hotlines have been ringing off the hook since they went online yesterday. And if we're able to identify instances of abuse, we will bring perpetrators to justice no matter what their status was in the church. And we will uncover any individuals who are involved in a cover-up and hold them accountable as well.

CORNISH: You said your hotline has been ringing off the hook. Can you describe anything about the kinds of calls that you're getting?

GREWAL: So I'm not going to get into specifics of allegations that have been related to us. I will simply say that the hotline went live yesterday afternoon, and we've had to add additional staff to take all the volume of calls that have been coming in. It is remarkable. And it just underscores the need to have hotlines like the one we have here in New Jersey and other parts of the country because I am certain that this abuse, given the pattern and practices that the Pennsylvania report identified, was not limited to the Northeast. And I encourage other attorneys general across the country to take a deep look at similar conduct in their areas of responsibility.

CORNISH: As you've talked about, the goal for this task force is to bring justice to victims of sexual abuse. Is there a larger goal though that you hope to accomplish with it?

GREWAL: I think one of the unfortunate byproducts, at least bringing this issue within the Catholic Church to light, is that we are getting individuals reaching out to us relating abuse in other religious organizations. And so I think when we have a discussion like this, where we are bringing to light abuse, and we're holding people accountable, it's giving other victims confidence to come forward to report abuse along the lines of what's been detailed in the Pennsylvania report. And I think it somehow draws away the stigma or the shame - that the victims were not at fault, that it was these individuals in positions of power that were at fault. And we're not going to protect those individuals who perpetrated these crimes any more. We're going to hold them accountable.

CORNISH: Gurbir Grewal is the New Jersey attorney general. Thank you for speaking with us.

GREWAL: Thank you for having me.