Barbara Jones, Cohen Special Master, Tapped to Review Child Sex Abuse Policies in NY Catholic Church.
Barbara Jones, the special master who vetted documents seized in the Michael Cohen case, has been tapped to independently review policies and procedures surrounding child sex abuse cases within the Catholic Church in New York.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan—who leads the New York Archdiocese—announced on Thursday that Jones, a former federal judge for the Southern District of New York, will be responsible for reviewing cases of child sex abuse in the church and determining if officials have followed the policies and procedures of the diocese when dealing with those cases.
Jones will serve as special counsel and independent reviewer for the appointment, which will be ongoing. Dolan addressed Jones personally during the announcement.
“I’m asking you to conduct an independent, scrupulous review to see if there are gaps, if there are things we should be doing and are not, and, hopefully, to affirm that we are doing our best to live up to promises we bishops made to our people in 2002,” Dolan said.
The country’s bishops agreed that year to enact a zero-tolerance policy against priests who are found to have sexually abused children.
Jones said she’s already started reviewing efforts by the archdiocese to handle cases of child sex abuse, some dating back more than two decades.
“Based upon this initial review, I see a robust infrastructure in place with the archdiocese. My job now will be to evaluate the effectiveness of the existing programs and policies in that infrastructure—identify deficiencies—and recommend enhancements or new policies and procedures,” Jones said in a statement.
Jones is currently a partner at Bracewell LLP in Manhattan where she focuses on corporate monitorships, compliance issues, internal investigations and arbitrations and mediations.
She began serving as special master in the Cohen case in April, when she was appointed to the position by U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York. She finished reviewing millions of documents last month that were seized from Cohen’s office and home in April. She identified about 7,500 items as being privileged or sensitive, but 3.2 million other documents were handed over to prosecutors. Cohen pleaded guilty days later and offered to cooperate with alleged investigations into allegations of Russian interference in U.S. politics.
The appointment of Jones builds on other actions taken by church officials and state prosecutors recently to further investigate the handling of child sex abuse in New York. Those efforts were spurred by a grand jury report unsealed in Pennsylvania last month that alleged more than 300 clergy members sexually abused more than 1,000 victims over a period of decades.
State Attorney General Barbara Underwood has launched a civil investigation into the treatment of child sex abuse cases by the church. She issued civil subpoenas earlier this month to the state’s dioceses, which said they were ready and willing to work with the attorney general’s office in its civil investigation.
Underwood’s office cannot independently pursue criminal charges against church officials in cases of alleged child sex abuse. That responsibility, if presented, would fall to the state’s district attorneys, who are the only officials with the power to convene grand juries to investigate and potentially prosecute individuals on child sex abuse charges.
Albany County District Attorney David Soares, who is president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, said last month that the state’s prosecutors will work jointly with Underwood’s office on any investigations of child sex abuse.
Jones’ work will complement both investigations by sorting through the church’s current policies for handling child sex abuse cases and making recommendations on how they can be improved. She will also work with Dolan on developing new protocols for dealing with allegations of abuse of position or power with adults, according to a press release.
Jones served as a federal judge in the Southern District for 16 years before her appointment to the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, where she served until 2012. She joined Bracewell in 2016.