Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes yesterday announced a “groundbreaking” agreement with Bishop Thomas Daily in which the Brooklyn diocese promises to immediately turn over any sex-abuse allegations against priests.
The announcement of the “memorandum of understanding,” signed by Daily and Hynes comes as Catholic dioceses around the country are trying to halt damage caused by the child sex-abuse scandal.
Aides to Hynes maintained the agreement was the most comprehensive effort yet.
It calls for the diocese, which includes Queens, to report any suspicions that a minor “has been sexually abused by a member of the clergy.”
The diocese also agrees to notify the district attorney’s office “if it is contemplating the transfer or re-assignment” of a priest accused or suspected of abuse.
In a bow to concerns expressed by Daily, Hynes says he will not require priests “to divulge (any) confidential communication made in the course of the confessor-penitent relationship,” according to a text of the memorandum released by prosecutors.
The agreement was yet another retreat from the hard-line position once taken by Daily, who several weeks ago had refused to divulge the names – or even the number – of priests alleged to have committed abuse.
The pact also reflects the growing fear, expressed last week by Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, that there may be current abuse cases not reaching the attention of authorities.
Prosecutors have noted that the vast majority of cases reported so far are old ones, substantially beyond the five-year state statute of limitations.
Hynes’ agreement is technically between his office and the diocese, but a spokeswoman for Brown said that the office already has a similar understanding.
“The diocese has agreed to promptly report and fully disclose to our office any allegations of sexual abuse involving priests,” said spokeswoman Betsey Herzog.
Herzog said the arrangement provides for “immediate intervention” so that victims can receive “counseling and support.”
Daily praised the memo, saying “I see another concrete manifestation of our shared commitment to ensure the safety of our children … We renew our commitment to cooperate with the civil authorities.”
The bishop has been a central figure in the scandal that has grown since earlier this year, when it was revealed that church officials in Boston had for years allowed a defrocked priest, John J. Geoghan, to molest more than 130 children.
Daily had served as vicar general of the Archdiocese of Boston during some of the years the abuse took place. Geoghan is now in jail.
The Brooklyn diocese says it has so far handed over the names of 36 priests accused of abusing minors. Hynes spokesman Jerry Schmetterer said 15 of those were turned over to Brooklyn prosecutors. He said that an additional 10 names have been provided to Hynes’ office by private citizens.