Catholic Diocese in New York subpoenaed by state attorney general
Last week, Barbara Underwood, New York’s attorney general, subpoenaed all the state’s Roman Catholic diocese as part of a full-scale civil investigation into sex abuse allegations against clergy and church leaders.At least five other state attorneys general have launched similar investigations.
Catholic churches across the country have been under scrutiny for decades as allegations of clergy sexual abuse were no longer protected under a shroud of secrecy.
The announcement comes several weeks after a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed the abuse of more than 1,000 children by hundreds of priests over decades.
But before Boston, before Buffalo and before Pennsylvania, there was Oswego, NY.
Susan Sweet, a resident of that city, has been working with and advocating for abuse victims for decades. Sweet, well known in the Catholic community, has served as an Eucharistic minister, lector, vocations chairperson, parish council member, liturgy committee member, and taught religious instructions for 35 years. She also served as a northern regional diocesan council member and brought children from 10 parishes to World Youth Day in Denver to see Pope John Paul II. Sweet led the Youth Conference of the Northeast Charismatic Conference along with Marty McCluskey from Syracuse and she assisted Father Regis Rodda in a mission in Juarez Mexico along with 20 youth from across the diocese.
Despite her service to the diocese, when Sweet began investigating claims of abuse, she was ridiculed, despised and even threatened. Resolving to keep reaching out to victims and exposing the truth, she eventually found a reporter willing to hear her out and tell her story.
While Sweet looked into several priests, one was prominently known in the community. Monsignor Francis Furfaro had served St. Joseph’s Church in Oswego and entrenched himself in the community. He served as the chaplain for the Oswego Police Department and he served 21 years on the Oswego City School District’s Board of Education.
Rumors of Furfaro’s expeditions with young boys had circulated for years. Some community members believed the rumors to have substance, others did not. Those who believed referred to him as “Ferf.”
Sweet was able to convince the diocese that the then-octogenarian had abused several boys dating back to 1960. Furfaro quickly fell from grace and his name was removed from St. Joseph’s Church and from the county’s mental health facility.
Sweet said that the attorney general’s office had been alerted, by her and others, for years about clergy sex abuse in Oswego and other locations. She was pleased to learn of the new probe, however, she said it wasn’t enough.
“They’re doing this to cover themselves—to say, ‘We did what we were supposed to do.’ It’s very odd after all this time that the attorney general’s office, which has been notified many times in the last 20 years, is doing this now.”
At issue now is the passage of a bill that would lift the statute of limitations for sexual abuse of a minor.
The state Assembly has twice passed the Child Victims Act but a handful of state senators have stalled voting through the upper state house.
“Until those in power in New York State pass the statute of limitations bill and waive the statute of limitations, it’s premature,” Sweet said of the probe. “It’s great, but it’s not enough. It will go nowhere. Usually, victims run in shame. A lot of it comes out later in life, especially with the prepubescent abuse, which we see a lot of.”
Sweet said the magnitude of these crimes against children and young adults can impact them for life, causing spiritual, psychological and a host of other potential issues.
“There will be some sacrificial lambs,” Sweet said of the probe. “New things going to come out and look like heroes but all of this has been swept under the rug for years. The AG’s office is pre-empting the passing of the bill, trying to say they’ve done everything. I want to see this bill passed, and after that — go for it.”
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