TRENTON — New Jersey will conduct an investigation of sex abuse by clergy in the state's Roman Catholic dioceses.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Thursday that he is establishing a task force to be headed by former Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino.

The group is authorized to present evidence to a state grand jury and will have the power of subpoenas to compel testimony and release of documents.

The announcement comes three weeks after a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania found rampant sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children by about 300 priests in that state.

“I was deeply troubled to read the allegations contained in last month’s Pennsylvania grand jury report,” Grewal said in a prepared statement Thursday. “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.”

In addition to investigating allegations of sexual abuse by clergy, the task force will review whether the Catholic dioceses complied with terms of a 2002 memorandum of understanding with county prosecutor's offices in which church officials agreed to establish policies to report allegations of abuse to law enforcement.

To help identify potential victims, Grewal also established a dedicated hotline to report allegations of sexual abuse by clergy. The toll-free number is 855-363-6548.

Earlier Thursday, New York's attorney general subpoenaed the state's eight Catholic dioceses as part of a probe in sex abuse allegations.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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