January 16, 2005

Future of N.H. church abuse settlement heads to court

CONCORD (NH)
Telegram & Gazette

By J.M. HIRSCH
Associated Press Writer

CONCORD, N.H. Discord over evaluating the child protection policies of the state's Roman Catholic diocese has grown so acrimonious the agreement calling for the evaluation could be voided.

That has both sides eager to persuade a judge the deal can be saved.

If they fail, the state could find itself litigating an onerous case with little guarantee of success, while the diocese could earn the distinction of being the first in the nation to face criminal charges stemming from the child sex abuse scandal.

Annual audits for five years are required by a 2002 agreement between the church and state that ended a criminal investigation of whether diocesan officials knew members of the clergy were abusing children but failed to protect them.

At issue now is the scope of the audit and who will pay for it. The church wants the state to cover the bill and the evaluation to be limited mostly to paperwork. The state says the church should pay and wants a wide-ranging evaluation.

The dispute began just months after the church and state reached the then unprecedented deal in which prosecutors agreed not to seek criminal indictments against the church.

In exchange, the diocese agreed to enact strict new child protection policies, admit its actions had harmed children, open itself to audits and admit it probably would have been convicted had the case gone to trial.

The agreement did not specify who would pay for the audits, however, and the parties have wildly different takes on what sort of audit would satisfy the terms of the agreement.

Posted by kshaw at January 16, 2005 12:07 PM