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Spota: Extend Grand Jury Probe Into Priest Abuse

Nov 27, 2002 | Newsday

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said yesterday that he has asked the special grand jury investigating the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre to extend its work for several more months.

Spota declined to comment on whether any criminal charges will be filed against priests for sexually abusing minors and how top diocesan officials dealt with the priests and victims involved. In recent weeks, however, Bishop William Murphy, the head of the diocese, has told priests that he expects that none of the priests currently under suspension or in forced retirements will be indicted for abusing minors or illegally covering up the abuse cases.

Nassau District Attorney Denis Dillon, who reviewed files provided by the diocese, said this spring that the cases were too old to be prosecuted. A spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney's office said yesterday, "An official announcement about the status of the grand jury will be made later this week." The term of the grand jury, which began in May, is scheduled to expire on Saturday. Granting such extensions is routine. As long as the grand jury is sitting, there is always the possibility of indictments if new evidence is developed or new witnesses come forward with any recent incidents of abuse, legal sources said.

Sources familiar with the probe said most likely the grand jury needs the additional time to write a report that will detail how the diocese handled instances of sexual abuse by priests in Nassau and Suffolk over the past four decades.

"We had heard that there was a possibility of an extension but were not aware it has happened. The diocese has cooperated fully with the grand jury in every way requested to date and will continue to do so. It is our understanding that the grand jury process is a confidential one and so, it would be inappropriate to comment any further," Joanne Novarro, a diocesan spokeswoman, said in an e-mail yesterday.

Murphy was asked to appear before the grand jury in October but declined to do so, according to legal sources. He was not subpoenaed. Most of the cases heard by the grand jury took place during the tenure of Bishop John McGann, who served between 1976 and 2000 and died in January. Murphy was installed as bishop in September 2001.

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