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L.I. to Form Grand Jury vs. Priests

April 11, 2002

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NEW YORK (AP) _ A district attorney on Long Island says he will convene a special grand jury to investigate allegations of sexual abuse involving priests, a move legal experts say would be the first of its kind.

The grand jury, to be officially announced Thursday afternoon by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, would be a bold step in the growing examination of the church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations in dioceses across the nation.

Legal experts said the grand jury would be the first in the nation convened solely for the purpose of conducting a broad examination of sexual abuse allegations against clergy.

Last week, Spota’s office filed a request to form the grand jury with the state’s Office of Court Administration. That request was approved by two judges this week, said David Bookstaver, a court administration spokesman.

Under New York law, grand juries may subpoena evidence and witnesses, issue indictments, or find that subjects did not break the law.

``Now, I think the district attorney in Suffolk County is challenging for the first time the black wall of silence,″ said Michael Dowd, a New York attorney who has represented several victims of alleged abuse.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre serves 1.5 million Catholics in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island. Bishop William Murphy turned over information on abuse cases to the counties’ district attorneys last month.

The Nassau district attorney’s office said it subpoenaed information from the diocese, and Spota has reportedly done the same.

Spokeswoman Joanne Novarro has said that the Rockville Centre Diocese has ``every intention of cooperating″ with a grand jury.

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