NJ church officials: Victims with pre-2002 deals free to speak

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- New Jersey Catholic Church officials say abuse victims required to remain silent by settlement agreements can speak publicly about their ordeals.

The New Jersey Catholic Conference said in a statement Tuesday that the church has no objection if a victim wants to speak out. It came after Democratic state Sen. Joe Vitale called on the church to release abuse victims from confidentiality agreements.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has barred such agreements since 2002 unless a victim requests confidentiality.

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The New Jersey conference says Newark Archbishop Cardinal Joseph Tobin and the state's bishops won't object if victims with such deals from before 2002 come forward.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal launched a criminal probe into abuse. He says a victim hotline has been "ringing off the hook."