New Jersey's Priest Sex Abuse Hotline Has Been 'Ringing Off the Hook'

The state recently joined New York and others in launching its own investigation into the ongoing scandal.

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Sep 14 2018, 4:55pm

Photo by Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Catholic Church's tumultuous summer, racked by one sex abuse scandal after another, shows no signs of slowing down. After a bombshell report in Pennsylvania revealed 300 priests had abused 1,000 kids over the span of decades, the attorneys general in New York and New Jersey launched state-level investigations of their own to look into the crisis, and how clergy higher-ups may have systemically covered it up. (Missouri, Nebraska, Illinois, and New Mexico are also looking into the matter.)

New Jersey, along with New York, is one of the most Catholic states in the country, so there has been some expectation that the revelations will be similar—or perhaps even worse—than those out of Pennsylvania.

"If you [thought] Pennsylvania was bad," John Manly, an LA-based sexual-abuse lawyer, told VICE this week, "wait until you get to New York and New Jersey." So far, he doesn't appear to be wrong.

As part of the investigation, New York and New Jersey's attorneys general have set up hotlines for people to dial to speak with investigators and report former cases of sexual abuse in the Church. New York's hotline received an overwhelming 400 calls in the first six days, but in New Jersey, the phones have been going off so much that there haven't even been enough people to answer all the calls, NJ.com reports.

"Our hotlines have been ringing off the hook since they went online," New Jersey's attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, told NPR, adding that extra staff has been added to continue to deal with the high volume. Though he was unable to specify how many calls had been made, or discuss the nature of the conversations, Grewal did say that the astounding outpouring is evidence that such a service was clearly a much needed public good.

This might not necessarily come as a surprise—the existence of predatory priests have been known in the US, in the very least, since the Boston Globe's Spotlight team unearthed its city's misdeeds and subsequent concealment. And this week alone, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of DC, hinted that he plans to ask the pontiff to accept his resignation for his mishandling of clerical abuse cases; an influential bishop in West Virginia resigned following accusations that he harassed adults; and Pope Francis announced a meeting of the world's bishops—the first of its kind—to deal with the seemingly ever-expanding issue. All that news comes in the wake of the defrocking and resignation of Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, who allegedly sexually abused minors as well as seminarians, and has prompted demands for the pope's resignation for knowledge he may or may not have known about the scandal.

But what's new this time around—what is surprising—is that people, especially those within the Church, are urging transparency and action for those accountable. (On 9/11, a top Vatican official called all this the Church's "own 9/11.") In other words, as the #MeToo movement expands, and as Francis's apparent progressivism keeps angering members of the Church's more traditional, conservative faction, one thing's for certain: The Vatican can't stay quiet. And neither can the US.

"I encourage other attorneys general across the country," Grewal said, "to take a deep look at similar conduct in their areas of responsibility."

The phones, it seems, are not going to stop ringing.

If you live in New Jersey, and you've been a victim of sexual assault in the Catholic Church, call 855-363-6548. If you live in New York, call 800-771-7755. Elsewhere, call the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) at 877-762-7432.

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