Report Puts Focus Back on Church Efforts
By Regina Schaffer
Gloucester County Times [New Jersey]
July 28, 2003
A report released last week by the Massachusetts Attorney General revealed that more than 1,000 people were likely sexually abused by more than 250 clergy and church workers in the Boston archdiocese over 60 years.
The large numbers have caused more ripples in the continuing nationwide controversy regarding the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, and may leave local Catholics questioning the status of outreach efforts established by the Diocese of Camden.
The Camden diocese -- which serves Catholics in six counties including Salem, Gloucester and Cumberland -- has several elements already in place to aid victims of sexual abuse, including a toll-free number to assist victims who wish to report those cases of abuse.
Since its inception in April 2002, the child sex-abuse hotline established by the Diocese of Camden has received 63 calls, according to Andrew J. Walton, spokesman for the Catholic diocese.
"There have been no new reports of abuse since the toll-free number has been established," Walton said. "Most of the accusations date back decades, one as long ago as the 1940s."
Of those 63 calls received over the past 15 months, 37 phone calls were made to report incidents of sexual abuse involving 23 alleged priest offenders, Walton said.
Three of the 23 accused priests were active in the ministry, Walton said, but only one was working in the Camden diocese. All three priests were reported to the Prosecutor's Office and referred to the Diocesan Review Board.
As for the other priest, "the Diocesan Review Board determined the claim was baseless and unsubstantiated," Walton said. "And that priest could remain in ministry."
But the diocese's outreach has drawn criticism. Logan Township resident Kevin Gemmell, South Jersey affiliate coordinator for the national Catholic lay group Voice of the Faithful, said he doubts the hotline's ultimate goals. Voice of the Faithful formed in response to the sexual abuse crisis and claims 25,000 members across the country.
"First of all, when (the toll free number) came out, my biggest question is the fact that it's maintained by the diocese and created by the diocese," said Gemmell, who belongs to St. Joseph's parish in Swedesboro. "You're essentially asking a group to police themselves. In reality, in light of all the things that have come out in the past year, I don't feel that is the best thing."
But Walton contends that the diocese "goes a step beyond" procedure in its handling of abuse claims by reporting all incidents, no matter when they took place. All calls received are monitored by Laurence Rosoff, an independent attorney and former municipal court judge.
"The information is taken down, Larry Rosoff informs the caller that if it is a call regarding sexual abuse, that he will make the appropriate referrals to law enforcement or DYFS," Walton said.
"And he reports to the prosecutor all allegations, no matter how long ago the abuse took place."
"If someone doesn't want to report to the Prosecutor's Office, we advise them that they have that right," Walton said.
The hotline is "a point of contact," Walton said, to both inform the diocese of an abuse claim and reach out to the victim. Having a third party lawyer manning the hotline further insures both accuracy and objectivity, he said.
"It's their way of pre-empting any action by the victim," Gemmell said. "It's part the mechanism to gather information so they know about it before anyone else does."
So debate and skepticism continues, but both sides contend that the most important element that must come from all sexual abuse incidents is closure for victims.
"This (toll free number) is to facilitate the easy reporting and to ensure that the claims are being reported to the appropriate authorities," Walton said. "This diocese has taken comprehensive steps to protect young people, to prevent future cases (of abuse) and ensure that no priest who sexually abuses a minor remains in ministry."
For more information regarding the sexual abuse policies of the Camden diocese, visit www.camdendiocese.org.
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