March 12, 2005

Diocese policy on handling sex abuse allegations updated

Telegram & Gazette

By Kathleen A. Shaw Telegram & Gazette Staff

WORCESTER— The Diocesan Review Committee of the Catholic Diocese of Worcester has made changes in how it will deal with allegations of sexual abuse by clergy or diocesan workers and has set procedures for reporting past abuse.

Bishop Robert J. McManus also announced this week that the Rev. George J. Ridick, now pastor of St. Catherine of Sweden Parish, has been appointed liaison of priests on leave. Rev. Ridick holds advanced degrees in theology and psychology.

Eight priests have been placed on administrative leave since 2002 when allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced, and others are on leave after allegations were made in previous years. The policy states that, in accordance with canon law, priests on leave will continue to receive support from the diocese.

According to the new policy, anyone alleging they were abused years ago as minors, but are now adults, should call the Office for Healing and Prevention at (508) 929-4363 to begin the reporting process.

In addition, anonymous complaints will not be viewed as showing “reasonable cause to believe abuse has occurred,” according to the new policy.

Raymond L. Delisle, spokesman for the diocese and a member of the review committee, said two areas were addressed in the updated policy to reflect changes made since the policy was issued in 2002. The areas include the format of the Initial Review Committee and a more “defined role” of the liaison to accused priests.

During the 1990s, the Initial Review Committee met with people seeking to file a complaint of past sexual abuse. The committee consisted of most members of the review committee, two of whom received any allegations from complainants about abuse.

Since that policy was issued, the Office of Healing and Prevention was established under direction of Patricia O’Leary Engdahl, and the diocese now has a victim services coordinator who works through that office.

The new policy drops the use of the special committee name and limits its members’ participation in receiving complaints. Instead, complaints are now received by the victim services coordinator, Frances Nugent, or if unavailable another clinical social worker or an equivalent from the Diocesan Review Committee.

The position of liaison to accused priests was included in the 2002 policy, but the updated policy elaborates on the job to clarify the responsibilities of those who are involved.

According to the updated policy, the role of the Diocesan Review Committee is to review allegations of sexual abuse of minors made against any diocesan worker, whether clergy or layperson. The committee is also to assist the bishop with ongoing development of pastoral care guidelines for alleged victims and to inform the bishop and other committee members of canonical or civil actions.

The review committee will be overseen by a Policy Review Board made up of people selected by the bishop from diverse backgrounds. The review committee chairman is to act as liaison between the review committee and the policy committee.

If someone makes a complaint against a member of a religious order, the diocesan Vicar for Clergy will report the allegations to the person’s major superior in the order, according to the policy.

“I am grateful for the work of the Diocesan Review Committee in strengthening this policy,” Bishop McManus said, “as we continue to commit to the process of healing for those who have been abused in the past and protecting those in our care to the best of our ability now and into the future. I also extend my appreciation to Father Ridick in taking on this important role as my liaison to those who have been accused of abuse.”

According to the policy, the bishop or his liaison “will reach out to the accused, meeting with them to ascertain ways in which the Diocese would be able to assist them.”

Communication will be maintained and rehabilitation will be offered if the accused person chooses such a program. The accused will also be referred to professionals for evaluation and treatment, support groups or other treatment resources.

Daniel E. Dick, victim support coordinator for Voice of the Faithful, has asked for a meeting with the review board to discuss some ideas that he and some alleged victims of clergy abuse have to offer. He has suggested that he and one or two alleged victims sit down with the board. Mr. Dick has proposed a restorative justice program that he said is in compliance with the bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

Bishop McManus has promulgated the new policy as particular law for the Diocese of Worcester, and it took effect Thursday.

Posted by kshaw at March 12, 2005 05:26 AM