|Church Files Lawsuit
over Audit Delay: Diocese, State Disagree on How Inquiry
Would Be Carried Out
By Daniel Barrick and AnnMarie Timmins
May 28, 2004
The Catholic Church surprised state prosecutors yesterday with a lawsuit
blames them for delaying a long-anticipated audit of the church's handling
sexual abuse allegations. The lawsuit came a day after a bishop accused
state of misleading the public about the role of church officials in hiding
By late last night, church and state officials were openly feuding about
church's commitment to expose and end clergy sex abuse.
"In certain corners of the diocese's hierarchy, this culture has
change," said Attorney General Peter Heed. "This highlights
the need for a
thorough, professional and complete audit."
The church's lawsuit accuses the attorney general's office of reneging
settlement that church and state leaders signed in 2002 that required
audit of the church's new sexual abuse policy.
Specifically, the church alleges that the state has tried to expand the
and cost of the audit by hiring an outside firm and expecting the church
the $200,000 cost.
The settlement never said who would pay for the audit, but it promised
unrestricted access to church records and staff in its inspection. David
Vicinanzo, the church's lawyer, wrote in the lawsuit that the state should
for the audit that prosecutors had required. He accused prosecutors of
the cost to the church only after they realized they couldn't afford the
far-reaching audit they wanted.
"A newly-minted interpretation . . . is unreasonable, unfair and
unworthy of the
state, which is ethically bound to keep its promises,"the lawsuit
In the 2002 settlement, signed by Bishop John McCormack and then-attorney
general Phil McLaughlin, the diocese avoided child endangerment charges
acknowledging that it had protected abusive priests for decades. At the
state prosecutors said annual audits would be the public's best guarantee
the church had corrected its lax handling of sexual abuse complaints.
The first audit was to begin five months ago but has been held up as
sides negotiated how it would be done and who would pay for it.
Heed said he learned last night for the first time that those negotiations
stalled when the church's lawsuit arrived by fax around 5 p.m. He questioned
church's timing of its lawsuit, since diocesan officials knew he was scheduled
to speak to a group of lay Catholics about the audit at 7 p.m. yesterday.
Twice yesterday, Heed said, church officials called him to express concern
he was addressing the group, Voice of the Faithful, which has been critical
McCormack. Those officials did not mention the impending lawsuit in either
He also noted that several reporters were sent copies of the lawsuit
Additionally, Heed had sent a letter to the diocese one day earlier,
that he was considering taking the church to court if the two sides couldn't
figure out how to conduct the audit.
"They want this audit to go forward," Heed said. "But
they want it on their
terms, of course. . . . The (audit) we want is too thorough, too extensive.
might tell the truth. It might find out something, for heaven's sakes."
Heed said his office would aggressively pursue a detailed and thorough
At last night's meeting, state officials responded for the first time
accusations made Wednesday by Auxiliary Bishop Frank Christian that the
misrepresented its evidence in its child endangerment case against the
Christian said the public did not know the whole story, and that church
officials never had the opportunity to explain themselves.
Assistant Attorney General Will Delker said Christian refused to speak
investigators two years ago because they would not grant him immunity
"We truly, honestly thought that there would be change, that we
would move in
the right direction,"Delker said. "To hear those comments is
Yesterday, The Rev. Edward Arsenault, an assistant to McCormack, said
did not speak for the church, and that church officials stood by the terms
the settlement they signed with the state. He said Christian was provoked
criticizing that settlement by Catholic activists who "ambushed"him
at a parish
meeting where he did not expect to discuss clergy sex abuse.
Assistant Attorney General James Rosenberg, who helped investigate the
said last night that he still hoped the settlement reached by church and
officials could be salvaged.
"I still strongly believe in the strength of the agreement,"
"But I think there is concern on the behalf of the state that (church
are not as accountable as they should be. We're concerned they haven't
to their side of the bargain.