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States investigating the Catholic church's handling of sexual abuse allegations against clergy

Several states have launched independent investigations into the Catholic Church's handling of sexual abuse allegations against the clergy. (LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images)

In the wake of numerous sexual abuse scandals that have left the Catholic Church reeling, a number of U.S. states are pressing forward with their own investigations into the church's handling of allegations against the clergy.

What are the details?

Last month, a grand jury in Pennsylvania issued a report that accused the church of covering up the sexual abuse allegations of hundreds of victims over the past 70 years.

Since the grand jury's findings were made public, the attorneys general of Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey, and Nebraska have all taken action to investigate the accusations of abuse by priests in their respective states.

In announcing her investigation Thursday, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood issued a statement, saying, "The Pennsylvania grand jury report shined a light on incredibly disturbing and depraved acts by Catholic clergy, assisted by a culture of secrecy and cover-ups in the dioceses. Victims in New York deserve to be heard as well — and we are going to do everything in our power to bring them the justice they deserve."

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal also issued a statement, saying, "I was deeply troubled to read the allegations contained in last month's Pennsylvania grand jury report. We owe it to the people of New Jersey to find out whether the same thing happened here. If it did, we will take action against those responsible."

Several church leaders have welcomed the investigations, and pledged to cooperate fully. New York archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling said in a statement:

"It is not a surprise to us that the attorney general would look to begin a civil investigation, and she will find the archdiocese of New York, and the other seven dioceses in the state, ready and eager to work together with her in the investigation."

Anything else?

Not all states allow their attorneys general the power to convene a grand jury, and some have explained that their hands are tied due to limits on their authority.

Ruth Wisher, a spokesperson for Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, explained to the Times-Picayune, "The attorney general obviously has an interest in arresting child predators," but "we don't have the authority to prosecute until a district attorney turns the authority over to us."

Other attorneys general have pressed forward using other mechanisms within their power, like Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who told reporters that his office is unable to convene a grand jury or to issue subpoenas for documents. However, Hawley has initiated an independent investigation reviewing files voluntarily released by St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson.

But Hawley is under criticism by an attorney representing Missouri abuse victims, who told the New York Times that the attorney general could convene local district attorneys to use their subpoena powers collectively, as he has done on other issues.

Nicole Gorovsky questioned why Hawley hadn't used that method to gain access to more records than what the archdiocese voluntarily handed over.

"He's allowing the perpetrator to run the investigation. It's exactly backwards," he told the Times.

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