Florida attorney general launches tip site to investigate priest abuse

State investigation 7 Catholic dioceses

By ERIC LEVENSON AND ROSA FLORES, CNN

(CNN) - Florida's attorney general launched a tip website on Thursday for people to report allegations of past child sex abuse by Catholic priests in the state, adding to a trend of states investigating potential wrongdoing.

The tip site is part of Attorney General Pam Bondi's ongoing criminal investigation into the seven Catholic dioceses in the state, according to a news release from her office. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is assisting with the statewide investigation.

"Any priest that would exploit a position of power and trust to abuse a child is a disgrace to the church and a threat to society," Bondi said in a statement. "I am calling on victims and anyone with information about potential abuse to please report it to my office. Victim information will be kept confidential in accordance with state law."

"FDLE will work with the Office of Statewide Prosecution and State Attorneys to independently review records of the Catholic Church to ensure any allegations have been reported and investigated," said FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen. "I thank Attorney General Bondi for her commitment in keeping Florida families safe."

With the move, Florida joins a number of states that have similarly launched tip lines in the wake of a Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August that documented decades of alleged sexual abuse by priests and a system of cover-ups by church higher-ups.

Citing internal documents from six Catholic dioceses, the Pennsylvania report showed that more than 300 priests had been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children.

Bondi said all seven of the bishops in Florida are cooperating with the investigation, and subpoenas are expected to go out going forward. Already, more than 15 victims have come forward, Bondi said.

The tip website -- myfloridalegal.com/StopAbuse -- asks for the names of the abuser and organization, the location, date and other relevant facts. That information will be used for investigative and evidence-gathering purposes and will be kept confidential in accordance with state law.

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