By Peter Szekely
NEWYORK (Reuters) – New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan named a former federal judge and prosecutor on Thursday to independently review how the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York has handled allegations of sexual abuse, after what Dolan said was the “Summer of Hell.”
Barbara Jones, who retired as a U.S. district judge in 2013, said she and a team of lawyers would have unfettered access to all materials as they reviewed sex abuse claim policies and procedures in the country’s second largest archdiocese.
“The cardinal has told me to leave no stone unturned and to provide him directly with the results of our work,” Jones, who is now in private practice, said at a news conference.
She recently served as a court-appointed special master to review items seized by federal agents in raids on the home and office of Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney for U.S. President Donald Trump.
The Church in the United States, Chile, Australia, and Ireland is in the midst of a crisis over sexual abuse of minors.
“Many of our people and priests are calling it the ‘Summer of Hell’ for our Catholic family,” Dolan said at the news conference.
He asked Jones to look for any gaps in the archdiocese’s policies for dealing with sex abuse allegations. And, he told her, “I want you to hold my feet to the fire if you feel that I’m not following through on the recommendations that you make.”
In August, Pope Francis wrote a letter to all of the world’s some 1.2 billion Catholics asking each of them to help root out “this culture of death” and vowing there would be no more cover ups. The pope referred to suffering endured by minors due to sexual abuse at the hands of a “significant number of clerics and consecrated persons.”
In July, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., resigned his position in the Church leadership after a review concluded that claims that he had sexually abused a 16-year-old boy were credible.
In August, Pennsylvania’s attorney general released a grand jury report that said 301 priests had sexually abused minors over the past 70 years. Earlier this month, New York’s attorney general issued civil subpoenas to all eight Catholic dioceses in the state as part of a sex abuse investigation.
Jones was a federal prosecutor in New York for 16 years before becoming a judge in 1995. She said the New York archdiocese already has a “robust infrastructure” in place for reporting allegations of sexual abuse and compensating victims.
“But my job now will be to evaluate the effectiveness of the existing programs and policies in that infrastructure, and to identify deficiencies and recommend changes for wholly new policies and procedures,” she said.
(This version of the story adds dropped word said in first paragraph.)
(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Toni Reinhold)