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Diocese To Give Names of Priest Suspects

May 4, 2002 | Allentown Morning Call

The Allentown Catholic Diocese will turn over to district attorneys the names of priests suspected of sexually abusing children and details of the cases, a spokesman said Friday.

District attorneys from the five counties that make up the diocese could get the information as early as next week.

The district attorneys met with Bishop Edward P. Cullen, who heads the diocese of nearly 270,000 Catholics, and diocesan lawyers Thursday. The district attorneys were optimistic after the two-hour meeting that the diocese would provide the information they need to determine if there are any prosecutable cases.

In a news release issued after the meeting, Cullen pledged full cooperation with the prosecutors. He did not specify at the meeting or in the release what would be turned over to them.

Diocesan spokesman Matt Kerr said Friday the diocese would release all of the information sought by the district attorneys, including the names of the accused priests, the names of victims and the details of each allegation.

''Full cooperation means full cooperation,'' Kerr said.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli took the lead in pressing the diocese for information a month ago in a letter requesting the names and details.

District attorneys Gary Dobias of Carbon County, Frank R. Cori of Schuylkill County and Mark Baldwin of Berks County followed up with similar letters.

Lehigh County District Attorney James B. Martin, who was present at the meeting, said he was satisfied with assurances from the diocese in February and April that none of the incidents took place in Lehigh County.

Morganelli has argued that it's up to the district attorneys, not the diocese, to determine if the cases are prosecutable. Diocesan officials have maintained that the cases are too old to be prosecuted. In Pennsylvania, adults have until they are 23 to file criminal charges in an abuse case.

In February, Cullen said four priests had been dismissed this year and another in 2000 over allegations made more than 20 years ago. In April, he announced that a sixth priest, Monsignor William E. Jones of Pottsville, had been removed over a 20-year-old allegation and that another priest was suspended while authorities investigate a 1995 allegation.

Jones is the only priest who has been identified. Kerr said the decision to release the name came after Cullen and a council of priests reviewed current policy.

More than 100 priests have been dismissed nationwide this year over sexual abuse allegations, prompting American cardinals to recommend there be a standard policy for handling such cases. Some dioceses have released the names of accused priests; others have not.

In 1998, Cullen established a policy in the Allentown Diocese that removes priests from their assignments and prohibits them from saying Mass publicly if a credible abuse allegation is made against them.

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