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Church Policy Unveiled

Dec 3, 2002 | The Bridgeton News

State authorities and the Catholic Church unveiled the nations first written policy on turning in suspected pedophile priests, a policy victims advocates contend does not go far enough.

The memorandum of agreement announced Monday would cover alleged sexual abuse both current and in the past, requiring church officials to turn over to authorities files on suspects and details of the alleged abuse. The policy also requires each county prosecutor to designate a lead person in dealings with the church.

The pact covers all five Roman Catholic dioceses in the state including the Diocese of Metuchen and the Diocese of Camden, along with two eastern orthodox arms of the Catholic Church.

"There cannot be any higher calling for us in law enforcement than protecting people from violence. Certainly that is true for children," said Peter C. Harvey, first assistant attorney general and director of the Division of Criminal Justice.

"For the first time ever, we will have all seven dioceses linked to all 21 county prosecutors."

Bishops in Camden and Metuchen have already turned similar lists over to authorities.

Harvey said the agreement came after negotiations between the Garden State's various dioceses and prosecutors.

Under its terms, church leaders would be required to alert authorities if a person comes forward, or if a minor's parents come forward, and alleges sexual abuse.

An internal investigation by the diocese into any allegations of sexual attacks would also need to be turned over, according to guidelines of the new policy.

The memorandum also governs virtually every sexual offense, ranging from those committed upon children by adults to adults attacking other adults.

In addition to liaisons within the prosecutor's offices, each bishop in New Jersey would appoint its own liaison in anti-abuse efforts.

Church officials praised the new agreement.

"This memorandum of agreement announced today codifies in large measure steps that each diocese in the state has been following individually, said William Bolan, Jr., executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, the umbrella group representing the seven dioceses.

Every bishop in the state endorsed the measure, including those in Camden and Metuchen, according to Bolan.

Currently, church officials are required by an internal policy to follow a 1972 law mandating they refer suspected sexual abuse of a minor to the state Division of Youth and Family Services. Some have accused the church of hiding the abuse away by settling lawsuits out of court and reassigning priests.

Groups such as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said the policy stops short of making inroads to the sex abuse scandal that has plagued the Catholic church for years.

Matt Kelly, media coordinator for the group, called it "a cynical attempt to use the credibility of the Attorney General's Office to disregard decades of criminal cover-up of felony sexual crimes against children."

One section of the memorandum says: "Nothing in this memorandum is intended to, shall be construed to, impose any duty or obligation of any type, kind, nature or description upon any person or entity and nothing herein shall be construed in any way to create any rights, substantive, procedural or otherwise"

Harvey said the clause was meant to prevent the memorandum from being used in a lawsuit.

SNAP, a group of 4,400 members nationwide that began over a decade ago, has called for Harvey and Attorney General David Samson to convene statewide grand jury proceedings to expose and prosecute any hidden offenses.

Andy Walton, a spokesman for the Camden Diocese, denied the new policy perpetuates the coverups some such as Kelly have alleged.

"It's a sense there is a shared commitment by the dioceses as well as law enforcement to do everything possible. This is the formalization of a long standing practice," Walton said, adding the Camden leadership, along with the rest of the state's dioceses, helped craft the policy.

"The practice isn't new. It's been our practice."

The New Jersey Catholic Conference includes the Archdiocese of Newark; the dioceses of Camden, Metuchen, Paterson and Trenton; and the Byzantine Eparchy of Passaic and the Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Diocese both known as "Eastern Rites" Catholic organizations.

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