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Buffalo Catholic Diocese acknowledges federal inquiry

FILE- In this Feb. 13, 2013 file photo, Bishop Richard Malone, bishop of Buffalo, speaks to Catholics before distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday at St. Joseph Cathedral in Buffalo, N.Y. Malone has been facing complaints over his handling of clergy sexual abuse claims and is under increasing pressure to resign. (AP Photo/David Duprey, File)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Federal investigators looking into clergy sexual misconduct collected documents from the Diocese of Buffalo in June but have not been in contact since then, the diocese said.

The diocese acknowledged the federal inquiry late Thursday amid reports the Justice Department has opened investigations across neighboring Pennsylvania into the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of child sex-abuse allegations against priests.

There is no evidence the two investigations are related.

Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone has been under increasing pressure to resign over his handling of complaints against priests accused of misconduct with children and adults. Malone publicly apologized in September for “any of my own failures in adequately addressing that abuse,” but said he would not step down.

The interest by federal investigators pre-dates the launch of a separate statewide civil investigation by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood. New York was among several states that started such inquiries following a shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report in August that found about 300 Catholic priests had abused more than 1,000 children statewide since the 1940s.

“Several months ago, we received a call from the local U.S. Attorney’s office with a request to review documents. A subpoena was provided and after some discussion, an agreement was reached to produce documents,” the Diocese of Buffalo said in a statement late Thursday. “We have heard nothing since early June.”

U.S. Attorney James Kennedy Jr., through a spokeswoman, said the office neither confirms nor denies investigations and declined further comment.

A Buffalo television station reported internal church emails reference the subpoena and discussions with federal prosecutors that resulted in an agreement to limit the production of materials to living priests.

In a June 13 exchange obtained by WKBW, diocesan Chancellor Regina Murphy told Malone and Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz a diocesan lawyer had helped gather information and left “with a relatively small amount of documentation from 16 files.”

“If any prosecutions result, it would probably be only a few,” Murphy wrote.

Later that evening, an email from an attorney for the diocese, Terrence Connors, said: “Our judgment is that there may be two or three cases that will interest (a federal prosecutor) and he will review to see if they are prosecutable.”

The bishop responded, “I hope the ones that may be prosecutable are all men removed from ministry,” according to WKBW.

A spokeswoman for the diocese did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday.

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents clergy abuse victims, said in a statement “the time for transparency has arrived.”

“Pope Francis has to be deeply concerned about what the federal investigation will reveal within the Diocese of Buffalo. The federal investigation represents hope for clergy sexual abuse victims in all of Buffalo and also worldwide,” Garabedian said.

The attorney general’s office said a statewide clergy abuse hotline received about 400 calls or online submissions since it was established in early September. Underwood said her office would work with district attorneys to prosecute individuals whose alleged misconduct occurred within the allowable time limits.

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