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Diocese Pledges To Report Abuse

Spokeswoman says Bishop James Moynihan Is Adhering To June Charter's Wording

Nov 24, 2002 | Syracuse Post Standard

State lawmakers are unlikely to approve a bill this year that would require clergy to report cases of sexual abuse to civil authorities.

The Syracuse Diocese, however, is not waiting for a state law, local church officials say.

"We have committed to reporting current cases," said Danielle Cummings, communications director for the seven-county Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse. "In a case that is beyond the statute of limitations, the bishop encourages the person to report it. The bishop is not veering from the words of the June charter."

In June, Syracuse's James Moynihan and Thomas Costello were among 239 bishops who overwhelmingly approved a policy to address the country's priest sex-abuse scandal.

The policy, called "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," is one of two national policies the bishops approved in June and revised earlier this month.

U.S. dioceses also follow a third policy, which is a local interpretation. Once the details of the two national policies are finalized, individual dioceses are likely to revise their policies to bring them into compliance with the charter and norms.

According to the charter, any priest known to have abused a child, no matter how long ago the incident, will be permanently removed from ministry.

The charter requires the bishop to report to legal authorities any allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.

Earlier this month, the bishops approved a revised version of the related policy on dealing with sexual abuse by priests. That policy is known as the norms.

The bishops, with input from Vatican officials, revised the norms after the Vatican requested changes that would provide due process for priests and conform to canon, or church, law. The revised norms do not require that bishops report all allegations.

"The diocese will comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and will cooperate in their investigation," the revised norms say.

The diocese will "advise and support a person's right to make a report to public authorities," the document says.

It's unclear why the reporting requirement was dropped in the revised norms, but bishops pledged during their semiannual meeting in Washington, D.C., to hold each other accountable to the rules outlined in the charter.

Under the norms, bishops are required to report to the Vatican cases in which there is "sufficient evidence that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred."

At the same time, the accused priest will be removed from ministry.

The revised norms do not change the action taken, but adds Vatican notification and input from tribunals, a clerical board that will judge cases.

"Both bishops are concerned with possible delays and the amount of administrative time this will take," Cummings said.

Under the Syracuse Diocese's written policy, church officials are not required to report allegations of sexual abuse by priests to civil authorities. Officials, however, say they will.

"The diocese will advise the person alleging abuse of the right to notify appropriate law enforcement or social service agencies," the local policy says.

Since announcing revisions to the local policy in April, Moynihan has said he will report current cases of abuse and will encourage reporting in other cases.

"He has said he would walk across the street to the DA's office with a victim if he was asked," Cummings said.

In May, the neighboring Rochester Diocese, which includes Tompkins and Cayuga counties, updated its local policy to require reporting to legal authorities any allegations of sexual misconduct brought to the attention of the diocese.

Officials in both dioceses have said the local policies will be revised to match the requirements of the norms and the charter once the Vatican approves the norms. Vatican approval is likely by the end of the year.

In Syracuse, the role of the local review board will also be revised to match the national policies, Cummings said. In August, the diocese appointed a paid victim assistance coordinator and six volunteers to a board that will help Moynihan assess allegations of sexual misconduct by the clergy.

The board is investigating some cases, but its work is confidential, Cummings said.

Since February, when Bishop Moynihan made his first public comments on the sexual abuse scandal in the church, he has refused to name local priests accused of or found guilty of sexual abuse. He has said the policy protects the accused and the alleged victim.

Since June, the diocese has confirmed permanently removing six priests from ministry because of credible allegations of sexual contact with minors. They are Monsignors Francis Furfaro and H. Charles Sewall and the Revs. James Hayes, Donald Hebert, William Lorenz and Chester Misercola.

The cases involved incidents that happened 10 or more years ago, officials have said.

Local church officials do not expect those six priests to return to ministry as a result of the revised norms.

A seventh priest, the Rev. Albert Proud, was sent to a psychiatric hospital in April after diocesan officials found a credible complaint he had sexual contact with a minor. The diocese is awaiting an evaluation before deciding if Proud should be removed permanently from ministry.

Since the diocese revised its policy in April, the diocese has given information about at least one case to a prosecutor.

Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said diocesan officials provided his office information about a case he said does not appear to include criminal activity and is beyond the state's statute of limitations.

He would not name the person accused. He has said he will not request the bishop turn over personnel records and said he has a good working relationship with the Syracuse Diocese.

"I'm satisfied with the way the bishop has responded to my needs," he said.

Victims advocates and some prosecutors say making clergy mandatory reporters will remove any doubt about the diocese's obligation or relationship with prosecutors.

"We still feel it is a protection that is needed," said Dawn Dugan, legislative aide for Assemblyman John J. McEneny, D-Albany. "The church has covered something up in the past."

In March, as the U.S. church's sex-abuse scandal grew, McEneny, a Roman Catholic, introduced legislation that would force religious organizations to review records going back 20 years and turn over all accusations.

State Sen. Stephen M. Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, introduced a competing bill with a shorter statute of limitations. The Senate bill, which required church officials to report suspected cases of sexual abuse to a state-run child abuse hot line, was approved.

The two houses failed to agree on specifics of the bill, such as who would staff or pay for the state hot line.

The failed bill also would have required professionals report any suspected child abuse, whether it involved a relative or not. Dugan said social workers and abortion-rights advocates worried that change would discourage youths from seeking health care, fearing adults would report sexual contact.

"We were trying to work on language to address that," she said. "They want to make sure the privilege of people's confidentiality was protected."

A new version of a bill will most likely be reintroduced in January, Dugan said.

In the meantime, what if a parent reports a priest recently sexually abused an 8-year-old? Would the diocese report the allegation to the district attorney?

"Absolutely," Cummings said. Staff writer Jim O'Hara contributed to this report.

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