(CNSNews.com) - The district attorney in Suffolk County, New York has taken the unprecedented step of announcing a special grand jury to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and whether church officials engaged in cover-ups.
In making the announcement, Suffolk County New York District Attorney Thomas Spota said he does not trust Catholic Church leaders and believes the Long Island Diocese of Rockville Center may be covering up cases of sexual abuse by its priests.
In the last month, the Suffolk County district attorney's office has received what it claims are "dozens" of calls from alleged victims, with a majority reporting the abuse of young boys, and some complaining of recent abuse. Other calls recounted events from years ago.
In making this first-of-its-kind move, Spota said church officials have not fully cooperated in the investigation so far.
"From what I have seen thus far, I am not at all satisfied with the credibility of public assertions of the church that it is properly policing its clergy," Spota said during a press conference. "We will be looking into whether the Diocese of Rockville Center has covered up repeated cases of sexual abuse and reassigned accused priests to other parishes.
"My office is investigating the policies, procedures and manner by which the diocese investigates these serious allegations, most of which appear to have been criminal in nature, and whether it purposefully reassigned accused priests to other parishes to the detriment of innocent children," Spota added.
"From what we have received by way of information so far, it does appear that there has been a cover-up," said Spota.
Spota's comments did not sit well with officials from the diocese.
"We have provided Mr. Spota's office with everything he's asked for, and we will cooperate with the grand jury," said diocese spokesperson Joanne Navarro. "I am puzzled that the district attorney thinks we have not been forthcoming."
The diocese insists it has placed every priest accused of abuse on administrative leave, but it's unclear how many priests have been placed on leave or whether any have been reassigned to other parishes.
George Rice, a Garden City, New York attorney representing the Rockville Center diocese was not available for comment.
The Diocese of Rockville Center serves 1.5 million Catholics in Nassau and Suffolk counties, located just east of New York City.
The 23-member Suffolk County grand jury is expected to be in place by the end of April.