Victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests in New Jersey are released from any confidentiality agreements that dioceses imposed on them, the head of the New Jersey Catholic Conference said.
"Survivors of sexual abuse must be able to come forward and tell their story to law enforcement and to the church," Patrick Brannigan said in a statement Tuesday. "Coming forward is a step for healing and justice."
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Brannigan is the executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, which represents Catholic bishops in the state on public policy matters.
Since 2002, Catholic dioceses dealing with sexual abuse allegations have been forbidden from entering into confidentiality agreements unless victims requested them. But cases handled before then may have silenced victims with binding legal terms -- a situation the New Jersey dioceses now are trying to rectify.
"Again, we do not object, and would not take any action, if a victim chose to speak out, even if there is a confidentiality provision in a settlement agreement," Brannigan said.
The move comes on the heels of last month's damning grand jury report on sexual abuse by more than 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania.
Soon after its release, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal formed a task force to investigate similar incidents in his state. "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," Grewal said at the time.
His office is operating a 24/7 hotline for people to report allegations against clergy members.
New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood has also launched an investigation into her state's eight dioceses. And the Pennsylvania report sparked investigations into sex abuse allegations against Catholic clergy in other states as well.