NJ Needs Own Grand Jury to Look at Clergy Sex Abuse

North Jersey Record
September 1, 2018

Sen. Joseph Vitale, long a champion on issues related to the health and general welfare of all New Jerseyans, has now stepped head-on into the gathering storm that is a widening sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. His call to action is heartening to hear, and was no doubt influenced, in part, by recent grand jury findings in Pennsylvania that showed Church leaders in that state covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years. The report also identified more than 1,000 victims.

More than 300 priests over 70 years, more than 1,000 victims. The sheer breadth of it helped bring Vitale to the conclusion that, if it happened in Pennsylvania, it could have happened in New Jersey. Vitale indicated he was also influenced by reports circulating about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, whom the Vatican removed from ministry earlier this year after allegations the cardinal sexually abused minors and adult seminarians over the course of decades. McCarrick formerly served as archbishop of Newark and bishop of Metuchen.

Last Thursday, Vitale called on Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to impanel a grand jury to see whether “generations of hidden sexual abuse” also occurred in New Jersey, noting that several priests accused in the Pennsylvania report spent time in New Jersey. The attorney general’s office has said was still reviewing results of the Pennsylvania case to determine any possible action.

“Given the wide scope of abuse found in Pennsylvania and the Vatican’s action against McCarrick, we must investigate now,” Vitale said. “Victims should not have to wait any longer for accountability and justice.”

Vitale also said he would again be putting forth legislation to extend the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse. The rules concerning the statute of limitations currently give victims until they turn 20, or two years from the moment they connect the abuse with the trauma it caused, to bring claim. The senator also urged the attorney general to set up a clergy abuse hotline.

The push for New Jersey to take a more forceful action comes as more and more similar reports regarding the church and alleged sex abuse continue to make headlines. In addition to the stunning grand jury report out of Pennsylvania, last week, the online news source BuzzFeed published a wide-ranging investigative report on alleged physical and sexual abuse by nuns at a Catholic orphanage in Burlington, Vermont. More locally, two North Jersey priests voluntarily stepped down from their parishes as church authorities investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against them.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop emeritus

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., lays hands on the Most Rev. James Francis Checchio at his Episcopal Ordination and Installation as the fifth Bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey, at the Church of the Sacred Heart in South Plainfield, New Jersey, on May 3, 2016. (Photo: Keith Muccilli, (Bridgewater, N.J.) Courier News)

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who runs the archdiocese of Newark, said earlier this month he had hired an external firm to audit the diocese’s files and review sexual abuse allegations involving clergy, according to NJ Advance Media. Patrick R. Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, has said the church in New Jersey is taking steps to prevent sexual abuse of children.

All that is good to hear. The church needs to make every effort to make clear that such behavior will not be tolerated, and that if there is reason to suspect any crimes are committed against children, they will be reported at once to proper authorities.

Still, there also must be a full reckoning for any sex abuse or sexual misconduct that may have occurred in New Jersey in the past as it relates to Catholic clergy and those who may have been victims. Then and only then will the Church and society be able to move forward in peace and restoration.








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