FBI agents investigating Buffalo clergy abuse claims in federal probe

FBI agents investigating Buffalo clergy abuse claims in federal probe

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The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo office in downtown Buffalo. (Derek Gee/News file photo)

Federal agents are involved in investigating allegations of clergy sex abuse in Buffalo, The Buffalo News has confirmed.

CBS News on Thursday reported that the U.S. attorney in Buffalo has subpoenaed the Diocese of Buffalo. The news outlet said the focus involves the "alleged trafficking of minors across state lines for the purpose of sex abuse."

FBI agents recently interviewed a local woman regarding allegations of sexual abuse against a Buffalo Diocese priest in the early 1980s.

The woman, who asked not to be identified, said two federal agents spoke to her in her home in an apparent effort to learn more about whether the diocese had covered up abuses.

“They did say they’re investigating the situation in Buffalo and they’re hoping for leads, and they said they never know who you’re going to talk to who gives you the next thing,” the woman said. “They did tell me they had leads the next day they were following up on.”

The woman said her son was molested by a priest when he was a teenager in the 1980s.

The Diocese late Thursday released a statement regarding the federal subpoena.

"Several months ago, we received a call from the local U.S. Attorney’s office with a request to review documents.  A subpoena was provided and after some discussion, an agreement was reached to produce documents. We have heard nothing since early June.  As far as we know, our response has nothing to do with the current Pennsylvania investigation that has just begun," read the statement issued by Kathy Spangler, director of communications for the diocese.

A spokeswoman for the FBI’s Buffalo field office would not confirm or deny that the agency had launched an investigation into clergy sex abuse in the Buffalo Diocese. She also did not confirm or deny that agents had spoken with the woman.

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“We do talk to people, all kinds of people, for all kinds of reasons, every day,” said the spokeswoman Maureen P. Dempsey.

The woman said the agents were interested in whether the accused priest had taken her son into another state or into Canada.

The woman identified the agents as Randall Garver and Michael Hockwatter. Garver declined to comment and referred questions to Dempsey. Hockwatter did not respond to a voicemail message.

Advocates for clergy sexual abuse victims have pushed for years for a federal investigation into the Catholic Church.

The release in August of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that detailed the abuse of more than 1,000 children by 300 priests in six dioceses ramped up calls for federal authorities to conduct a broader inquiry.

New York State Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood last month launched a statewide investigation into the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy, with a particular focus on the Buffalo Diocese.

The opening of that investigation came on the heels of months of media reports of allegations of sexual abuse in the Buffalo Diocese, unraveling a cover-up of alleged clergy sex abuse dating back decades.

"The federal investigation represents hope for clergy sexual abuse victims in all of Buffalo and also worldwide," said Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney who has represented victims of clergy sexual abuse. "The time for transparency has arrived."

The CBS report came in the wake of news that the Justice Department has opened an investigation into Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania accused of covering up sexual abuse for decades, a significant escalation in scrutiny of the church.

The investigation is believed to be the first time the federal government has conducted a statewide investigation of the church's sex abuse scandal. It comes two months after the Pennsylvania attorney general's office released an explosive grand jury report charging that bishops and other church leaders had covered up the abuse of more than 1,000 people over a period of more than 70 years.

Of the eight dioceses in the state, Philadelphia, Erie, Harrisburg, Scranton, Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Allentown all said they had received federal grand jury subpoenas requesting documents.

"This subpoena is no surprise considering the horrific misconduct detailed in the statewide grand jury report," the diocese of Greensburg said in a statement. "Survivors, parishioners and the public want to see proof that every diocese has taken sweeping, decisive and impactful action to make children safer."

News of the subpoenas, first reported by The Associated Press, threatened to deepen the crisis faced by the Catholic Church as it struggles through a new chapter of the sex abuse scandal, which emerged out of Boston more than 15 years ago. The Pennsylvania report followed the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, who is accused of sexually abusing seminarians and minors.

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