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Vermont bishop to form lay committee to review clergy files

Burlington, Vt., Oct 10, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Burlington, the only Catholic diocese in Vermont, is forming a lay committee to investigate personnel files relating to sexual abuse of minors by priests, Bishop Christopher Coyne announced in a statement Oct. 10. When is concludes its review, the committee will publicly release a list of accused priests.

The committee will examine the same files covered by a previous investigation conducted by the Vermont attorney general’s office in 2002. That investigation covered allegations relating to the years 1950-2000. The files do not include any contemporary accusations of sexual misconduct occurring after 2003, Coyne said.

The announcement comes one day after an article appeared online about Vermont attorney general’s decision that it “would not be prudent” to release the results of the 2002-2003 enquiry into clerical sexual abuse. According to BuzzFeed News, that investigation resulted in the names of 21 men being turned over to state authorities. In most cases, the accused were either deceased or no longer in ministry.

No charges for sexual crimes against minors were brought following the attorney general’s investigation.

There has only been one credible accusation of priestly sexual abuse in the Diocese of Burlington since 2002, which concerned an “at-risk adult.” No priests currently in ministry in the diocese have been accused of sexual abuse, according to the diocese.

The new lay-led committee will also examine files that were initially not fully investigated by the state in 2002, Coyne told CNA in a phone interview. These files contained allegations against deceased priests but were not deemed worthy of further investigation.

Coyne wants the committee to reexamine all the allegation in order to determine whether or not the names of the accused should be made public.

"There's some files that are old, that the priests were deceased, there was no investigation,” he said. “They said, ‘You know, we're not going to investigate this, there's only one allegation, this was an old file, and the priest is deceased and he can't clear his name.’”

“So there's a few of those, and that's what I want the committee to look at, and I want them to make a decision as to whether we're going to release the names of priests that are deceased prior to 2002."

He explained that other dioceses have only chosen to release the names of priests who either admitted to abuse, were the subject of a settlement, or had been made aware of the accusation prior to their deaths so they would have a chance to defend themselves.

Other files, he told CNA, include details of behavior that does not rise to the level of a criminal complaint, but is still “creepy” and a violation of boundary issues. Coyne wants the committee to examine these files to ensure that no additional action needs to be taken.

“(There was some behavior by a priest) that we said, ‘Okay, we can't put you back in ministry,’ but we want to look at those files too and say, ‘You know, do we need to do anything here, have we done that right?’," he explained.

Coyne told CNA that he is unsure as to why the report was not released in 2003, but suspects that the attorney general’s office was reluctant to release names in cases they would not be prosecuting.

"I wish I could give you an answer. I don't know,” said Coyne. “They may have decided that since they couldn't prosecute and they weren't able to bring any charges against anyone that they couldn't name names."

Coyne is, however, “very confident” that his diocese has taken appropriate measures in responding to allegations of sexual abuse. Since 2002, the Diocese of Burlington has had a policy of immediately involving law enforcement following any allegation of clerical sexual abuse. 

"We went one step further in that as a matter of policy from that point on, any allegation that was deemed to be initially credible, namely that it had some sense of truth to it, was turned over to the authorities,” he told CNA. Even if the person making the complaint refuses to go to the police, the diocese would still take the matter to the authorities, he said.

The committee will also determine which details to include in the public list of the accused, such as birth, death, and ordination dates, and Coyne hopes to form the committee soon, so they can start work as quickly as possible.

"I think this is the way forward. I think every diocese has to do this, otherwise we're going to continue to have these stories break every few months all over the country,” he told CNA.

“And every time it breaks, the cloud of guilt goes across all of us."

Lawsuit accuses Calif. bishops of sex abuse cover-up

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 10, 2018 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- A lawsuit in California is accusing bishops from all of the state’s dioceses, as well as the California Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of Chicago, of covering up sexual abuse.

Jeff Anderson and Associates, a Los Angeles based organization that advocates for alleged victims of alleged sexual abuse by Catholic priests, filed the lawsuit Oct. 1.

The plaintiff, Thomas Emens, alleges he was abused for two years in the 1970s, starting at age 10. Attorneys for the plaintiff claim to have uncovered, by examining public documents, more than 300 priests from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles who are alleged offenders.

The plaintiff is requesting that each diocese “publicly release the names of all agents, including priests, accused of child molestation, each agent’s history of abuse, each such agent’s pattern of grooming and sexual behavior, and his or her last known address,” according to the lawsuit.

The California Catholic Conference released a statement Oct. 4 responding to the lawsuit, saying that the lawsuit and report overlook the positive steps that all California dioceses have taken since 2003 to mitigate abuse, including the “zero tolerance” standard to make sure no one with a credible accusation of abusing children is allowed to function as a priest, as well as a lay-led Independent Review Board to advise bishops on whether an accused priest should be allowed to return to ministry.

The conference also pointed out that information on all of the alleged accused priests that Jeff Anderson attorneys uncovered was publicly available.

“Allegations of abuse have been rare since 2003, responded to and uniformly reported, but we know we can never be complacent,” the statement read. “The twelve dioceses of California will never waver in their commitment to protect young people.”

The Diocese of San Bernardino released a list Oct. 8 of 34 priests credibly accused of abuse in recent decades. The local bishop has apologized to victims and said the failure to protect children has led to “new awareness” about the “terrible scourge” of sex abuse.

Six of the priests on that list have been convicted in criminal court. All but one priest on the list have been dismissed from the clerical state, permanently banned from ministry in the diocese, or have died.

The Diocese of Oakland has announced plans to release an analogous list in the coming weeks.

The lawsuit comes following the August release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report covering a 70-year period across six dioceses in the state. The report alleged more than 300 priests had sexually abused over 1,000 children in that timeframe.

 

Oakland diocese to release names of clergy credibly accused of sex abuse

Oakland, Calif., Oct 9, 2018 / 06:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland has announced that the diocese will release the names of all clerics credibly accused of the sexual abuse of a minor.

“I hope and pray the publication of these names will help the innocent survivors and their families in their journey to wholeness and healing,” he wrote in a letter dated Oct. 2 and released Oct. 7.

The list will include the names of diocesan and religious priests, as well as extern priests. Anticipated to be released in roughly 45 days, the list is meant to be as accurate as possible, the bishop said, noting it will take some time to verify information on international and religious priests.

Aformer FBI official known for advocacy for justice in clercy sex abuse, Dr. Kathleen McChesney, will
assist in the review of clergy files and the audit of the diocese's process. Once the list is published, McChesney and her associates will fully review the files “to ensure our list is as accurate as possible,” Bishop Barber said. He said this second review will not be completed before Jan. 1, 2019.
 
Bishop Barber expressed hope that this list would help purify the Church and create a transparent environment.

“This is the latest step in the ongoing commitment of the Diocese of Oakland to stop the scourge of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults,” he wrote.

“This public accountability will allow you and others in our community to see we are keeping our promises. We have nothing to hide. It is the right thing to do.”

The bishop said the Diocese of Oakland has continually improved its accountability process, “utilizing background checks and mandatory safe environment training for all church employees and volunteers.” He also said the diocese welcomes regular audits from outside firms to guarantee all parishes and schools are compliant.

Bishop Barber expressed support for the mutual support group, No More Secrets Group, which has been meeting in the diocese since 2002, helping adult survivors through sexual abuses that occurred in childhood.

If anyone is aware of sexual misconduct by a clergy member or employee of the diocese, he asked them to make a report to the authorities or Stephen Wilcox, chancellor and victims assistance coordinator for the diocese.

“I realize other victims may step forward with new information. Any accusation will be fully investigated by our independent Diocesan Review Board. We intend to update our list as we receive new information.”

For transparency, San Bernardino diocese lists priests credibly accused of sex abuse

San Bernardino, Calif., Oct 9, 2018 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A list of 34 priests credibly accused of abuse in recent decades was released Monday by the Diocese of San Bernardino. The local bishop has apologized to victims and said the failure to protect children has led to “new awareness” about the “terrible scourge” of sex abuse.

“When we read this list we are pained to think of the many lives that were impacted by the sinful and unlawful acts of those priests who committed them,” Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino said. “Some will recognize names on this list, more will recognize the parish communities where they served. It makes this crisis more local to us, and may increase our feelings of sadness and outrage.”

He encouraged victims of sex abuse by a Church minister or those who know victims of such sex abuse to “please come forward and report it.” He offered his apologies and deepest regrets to the victims of those listed and to the Catholic faithful, “who have been scandalized by this shameful chapter in our Church’s history.”

“Apologies, at this point, can seem hollow and I regret that because I can imagine how painful this has been in the lives of many victims,” Bishop Barnes said. “Still, I do want to state my sincere apology.”

The list, released Oct. 8, draws from diocesan records and files documenting abuse reports made to diocesan personnel. The records include follow-up reports to priests and Diocesan Review Board discussions.

In the most recent cases, credibility of an accusation was determined by the Diocesan Review Board. In older cases, credibility was determined from facts reported by diocesan personnel at the time of the accusation, an admission from a priest, or from police or legal documents.

The diocese characterized the list as a “good faith effort” to “disclose the names of all priests with credible allegations.” Any additional credible allegations in the future will be added to the list. The latest allegation is from 2014, which was reported to child welfare authorities. Of those priests listed, 29 of the 34 names are “already in the public domain.”

John Andrews, communications director for the San Bernardino diocese, said those six not previously named had been reported to the police, but hadn’t been reported in the press nor were letters read to the faithful about these priests. He said the diocese had responded to the allegations responsibly.

Six of the priests on the list have been convicted in criminal court. All but one priest on the list have been dismissed from the clerical state, permanently banned from ministry in the diocese, or have died.

The whereabouts of the one priest who left the diocese in 1993, Paul Nguyen, are unknown. He had been incardinated in the Diocese of Oslo and served at St. Francis de Sales in Riverside from 1992-1993. The allegations against him were made known to the diocese in February 1993. He was also suspended and reported to the police.

Before 1978, the territory of the diocese was part of the Diocese of San Diego, which has released a similar list. Credibly accused priests who served in parishes of San Bernardino or Riverside counties from before that time are included on the San Bernardino diocese’s list.

There are presently about 1.6 million Catholics in the diocese out of a population of 4.9 million. About 1,900 priests have served in the diocese’s territory.

Andrews told CNA the list represents “a painful, tragic chapter in the history of the diocese.”

“We make no excuses for the actions of these men,” he said. “They are reprehensible actions and they are not consistent with what the Catholic faith is all about, about how we are to treat each other as human beings, especially as it relates to caring for children.”

He said the list’s release will create “raw, painful feelings,” especially for victims. “We stand ready to listen to them, to try to help them in their healing process with our action and our prayer.”

Bishop Barnes reflected on the effects of the sex abuse scandal.

“While we will always bear the mark of this scandal, our failure to protect children in earlier years has ultimately led us to a new awareness and an illumination of this terrible scourge on all of society,” he said, citing Christ's words in the Gospel of Luke: “there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.”

The bishop noted that since 2002 six priests have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. Of these, three were alleged to have committed an act of abuse since that year, while the other three alleged abuse incidents took place before 2002.

The bishop emphasized the diocese’s work since 2002, including its adoption of a “zero tolerance” policy for clergy with credible allegations of abuse and its close work with law enforcement in “all reports of abuse.”

Fingerprinting and extensive background checks are now mandatory for all clergy and lay employees of the diocese, and all diocesan ministers must take part in training to recognize and prevent the sexual abuse of children.

The diocese also established the Diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection to ensure safe environment policies and pastoral code of conduct are followed.

The list’s release was prompted by the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report covering a 70-year period across six dioceses in the state. The report alleged more than 300 priests had sexually abused over 1,000 children in that time frame.

Andrews said much of the abuse took place in the more distant past. He noted that only six credible cases had been reported in the last 16 years, compared to 28 cases in the previous 24 years. He said there has been more education about sex abuse and current diocesan response is “very solid.”

He said the diocese has adopted habits to encourage transparency and accountability, such as releasing the list of accused clergy.

“I think the Church is in a crisis that calls us to a greater level of openness, and we are hoping making the information public in this way will help the healing process for victims first and foremost and also for the Catholic faithful of our diocese as a whole,” he said.

“When we have an allegation that’s credible, we go to the parishes where that priest was, we announce that there is an allegation, and if anybody has been abused by this person, (ask them) to come forward,” he said.

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