February 11, 2005

Bishop says abuse by clergy was ‘great injustice’ to victims

Telegram & Gazette

By Kathleen A. Shaw Telegram & Gazette Staff

WORCESTER— Bishop Robert J. McManus of the Catholic Diocese of Worcester yesterday acknowledged that a “great injustice” was done to victims of clergy sexual abuse in this diocese, and he pledged to continue working for healing and restoration of trust.

His remarks came as he announced that a recent audit done at the behest of theAbuse Tracker Review Board of the United States Catholic Bishops has found that the diocese is in full compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The Gavin Group of Boston, which audited every diocese in the United States for the past two years, gave no recommendations for improvement. The group conducted the audit here Dec. 6 through 10. The first audit was done June 23 through 27, 2003.

“At the conclusion of this compliance audit, the diocese was found to be compliant with all articles of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” the audit states.

“I am pleased to see that this audit has once again confirmed the commitment our diocese has made to healing for those who seek the church’s assistance and restoring trust to the faithful community as a whole,” the bishop said.

“A great injustice was done to these victims of sexual abuse by members of the church. While there is no simple answer on how to foster healing in their lives, we join with the rest of the church in expressing our sorrow for the pain which was inflicted upon them and their families,” Bishop McManus said.

“We will continue to work with those victims who have approached us to address their individual needs. The sincerest response we can make to the community as a whole is to continue to strengthen the policies, procedures and spirit of our local policies and the national charter. This audit recognizes that commitment,” he said.

No specific recommendations for improvements were cited. It is expected that the national results will be released in Washington, D.C., later this month by the Office of Child Protection of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The audit report is posted on the diocesan Web site at www.worcesterdiocese.org.

Judge Anne Burke of Chicago, former interim chairwoman of theAbuse Tracker Review Board, spoke here Monday night at the College of the Holy Cross and said the board was proud of its work in enforcing the charter and in the auditing process.

Daniel Dick, victim support coordinator for the diocese-wide Voice of the Faithful, said the organization of lay Catholics is interested in more openness in the church. VOTF supports outside audits to see if dioceses are adhering to the charter, which was adopted by the American bishops in 2002, but he said Catholic lay people need to know more about the process.

“We have never seen what the Diocese of Worcester submitted to theAbuse Tracker Review Board so we can verify the veracity of what they are saying,” Mr. Dick said. “We need to be sure that the audit is legitimate.”

Mary T. Jean of the Worcester Voice, who advocates for clergy sexual abuse victims, said she was pleased to hear the bishop “recognize the pain of the victims.” She said she had not read the audit report and could not comment further.

According to the audit report, the diocese has instituted a policy to prevent clergy sexual abuse. The bishop late last year released a code of conduct on what is expected of clergy and paid and volunteer church workers.

The auditors said no new allegations of sexual abuse of a minor have been made to the diocese since the last compliance audit in 2003.

“The diocese has not entered into any confidentiality agreements during the audit period,” the auditors said.

The auditors also noted that the diocese has established an “effective liaison with civil authorities, ensuring that an open dialogue regarding sexual abuse allegations will occur.” Monsignor Thomas J. Sullivan, diocesan chancellor, has served as liaison to the office of District Attorney John J. Conte since 2002.

The audit also outlined the steps taken by the diocese when an allegation is made against a priest. After preliminary investigation, which complies with the church’s canon law, the diocese notifies the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican. If accusations are proven to be unfounded, “the diocese takes steps to restore the good name of the priest or deacon.”

If sexual abuse of a minor is admitted by clergy or guilt is established after a process that complies with church law, the diocese policies indicate that the priest or deacon can be permanently removed from ministry. The audit noted that “professional assistance” is given to these priests.

“In every case involving canonical penalties, the processes provided for in canon law are observed,” the audit said. “Accused clergy are encouraged to retain the assistance of civil and canonical counsel. When necessary, the diocese supplies canonical counsel to a priest or deacon,” the audit said.

In cases when a priest is not defrocked, the diocese “directs the offender to lead a life of prayer and penance,” the auditors said. A removed priest is not allowed to celebrate public Mass, administer sacrament or to “present himself publicly as a priest.”

The diocese reported to the review board that 45 priests were credibly accused of sexual misconduct from 1950 to 2003. Eight priests were removed from ministry in 2002 and 2003 by Bishop Daniel P. Reilly and none has been returned to duty. They are the Rev. John J. Bagley of St. Mary, North Grafton; the Rev. Raymond P. Messier of St. Francis of Assisi, Athol, and St. Peter, Petersham; the Rev. Chester J. Devlin of St. Bernadette, Northboro; the Rev. Gerald P. Walsh of St. Roch, Oxford; the Rev. Joseph A. Coonan of St. John, Worcester; the Rev. Peter J. Inzerillo of St. Leo, Leominster; the Rev. Lee F. Bartlett of Sacred Heart, Worcester; and the Rev. Jean-Paul Gagnon, of St. Augustine, Millville.

The sincerest response we can make to the community as a whole is to continue to strengthen the policies, procedures and spirit of our local policies and the national charter.
Robert w. McManus Worcester bishop

Posted by kshaw at February 11, 2005 07:28 AM