I-Team: Buffalo a likely focus of AG's probe of Catholic Church

Subpoenas issued by attorney general

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) - - After months of media scrutiny and pleas from victims of sexual abuse, law enforcement has launched a statewide investigation of the Catholic Church for the first time in New York State history.

Attorney General Barbara Underwood and Erie County District Attorney John Flynn will team up for joint civil and criminal investigations of sexual abuse and alleged cover-ups of those crimes in Buffalo and across the state. Civil subpoenas have already been issued to the dioceses, officials said.

"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,” Underwood said in a statement. “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."

Buffalo is likely to figure prominently in any statewide investigation as more than 80 clergy have now been accused of some form of sexual misconduct. Bishop Richard J. Malone has been under increasing pressure to resign over his handling of accused priests.

A 7 Eyewitness News I-Team investigation recently showed Malone recommended Father Art Smith work with children after he was removed by a previous bishop for inappropriate contact with an eighth grade student. Documents show Malone also allowed Father Robert Yetter to remain in ministry despite multiple allegations of harassment. 

Flynn said in a statement, "Our office continues to consult with the Attorney General's office on a potential joint investigation and we are exploring all possibilities."

That news brought relief to some catholics who have been distraught about the scandals enveloping their church.

Nicole, a 7 Eyewitness News viewer, wrote on Facebook: "I am a faithful Catholic mom of 8, who knows, loves and practices her faith...and this is not it. This is not our faith. And we need to uncover the filth that lies beneath the surface and bring the truth to light in order to rid ourselves of it and heal."

Criminal defense attorney Barry Covert said there are many secrets to uncover if Flynn chooses to convene a grand jury in the Buffalo Diocese as other DAs have done downstate -- even if some crimes happened years ago.

“If it's beyond the statute of limitations, that's OK,” Covert said. “They can still identify who these priests are and find the parishioners who have had access to them in the last five years, which is generally the statute of limitations, and see whether this conduct is true, whether it's ongoing, whether there are current abuse victims.”

In a written statement, a spokesman for the Buffalo Diocese said, "Our diocese will cooperate with any investigation initiated by the New York State Attorney General or District Attorney."

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