TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced Sept. 6 that he is forming a task force to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy within the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey, as well as any efforts to cover up such abuse, according to a release.
Grewal has appointed former Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino to head the task force. An experienced sex crimes prosecutor, Laurino will oversee a team of detectives and prosecutors from across the state’s County Prosecutor’s Offices and the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ), and will report directly to DCJ Director Veronica Allende.
Grewal has authorized the task force to present evidence to a state grand jury, including through the use of subpoenas to compel testimony and the production of documents, in addition to other investigative tools.
To help identify potential victims, Grewal also has established a dedicated hotline to report allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy.
The hotline will be staffed by trained professionals and operate on a 24/7 basis. The toll-free number is 855-363-6548.
The announcement follows the recent publication of a report by a Pennsylvania grand jury alleging more than 1,000 victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in that state over a 70-year period.
The report, which was the result of a multi-year investigation led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, also detailed allegations of a cover-up by church leaders and accusations of sexual abuse against at least four priests who spent part of their ministries in New Jersey.
“I was deeply troubled to read the allegations contained in last month’s Pennsylvania grand jury report,” stated Grewal. “The report revealed that sexual assaults on children – and efforts to cover up such assaults – were far more widespread in Pennsylvania than we ever thought possible. We owe it to the people of New Jersey to find out whether the same thing happened here. If it did, we will take action against those responsible.”
“No person is above the law, and no institution is immune from accountability,” he continued. “We will devote whatever resources are necessary to uncover the truth and bring justice to victims. I commend Attorney General Shapiro for his investigation in Pennsylvania, and we will work to ensure that our investigation in New Jersey is done professionally and thoroughly.”
“I am extremely honored that the attorney general would ask me to take on such an extraordinarily important investigation,” stated Laurino. “Having been a special victims prosecutor for most of my professional career, I am prepared to do everything possible to give a voice to those who were abused. I hope that we will finally be able to give these individuals some degree of closure in their lives.”
In addition to investigating allegations of sexual abuse by clergy, the task force will conduct a comprehensive review of existing agreements between the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey and state law enforcement.
In 2002, each of the state’s dioceses entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Attorney General’s Office and various County Prosecutors’ Offices.
These MOUs mandated that the dioceses establish policies and procedures to ensure that their leaders and employees report information to prosecutors about potential cases of sexual abuse within their churches and cooperate in any resulting law enforcement investigations.
As part of the efforts announced Sept. 6, the task force will determine whether the dioceses complied with the MOUs’ mandatory reporting requirements and whether any additional action is necessary.
“We want victims to know that we stand ready to investigate their cases and will do everything in our power to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice,” stated DCJ Director Veronica Allende. “The key is obtaining adequate evidence, and we urge anyone with information about sexual abuse by members of the clergy to contact us confidentially through our new hotline.”
Laurino has been a member of the Essex County Prosecutors Office since 1980. He served as acting prosecutor from June 2017 until this month, and previously served as acting prosecutor from January 2010 to February 2011.
Laurino has completed over 100 jury trials and has handled thousands of cases involving sexual violence.
Laurino has served as a faculty member for the National District Attorneys Association, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Advocacy Institute, the New York Prosecutors Training Institute, and AEquitas: The Prosecutors’ Resource on Violence Against Women, where he has taught trial advocacy courses on matters concerning sexual assault, ethics, and DNA evidence. Laurino has published and continues to lecture nationally on issues involving sexual violence, forensic evidence, attorney ethics, and the abuse of individuals with disabilities.
A cum laude graduate of Villanova University, Laurino received a master’s degree from Rutgers University. Laurino graduated from Seton Hall University School of Law, where he was an editor of the law review.
“Bob Laurino has spent much of his career investigating and prosecuting sexual violence, and he is a highly respected expert and advocate in this area,” stated Grewal. “His passion and expertise make him the right person to lead this task force.”
New NJ Clergy Abuse Hotline: 855-363-6548
Information about the task force is available at www.nj.gov/oag/clergy-abuse.