Bishop's Sex-Abuse Record Debated
Some Say Dimarzio Could Have Done More for Victims
By Karen Kennedy-Hall firstname.lastname@example.org
Courier-Post [Camden NJ]
August 2, 2003
Camden Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio gives himself high marks for his handling of the sex-abuse crisis, but not everyone agrees.
"I think it's very hard to rate yourself," he said at Friday's press conference to announce his reassignment to Brooklyn. "I tried to do what I thought was best, first of all reaching out to those who were victims, trying to settle some of the disputed cases we had, and making sure no one who ever had abused anybody was in ministry.
"And I think I was able to accomplish those things rather well," he said. Tough new policy
Last fall, the Camden diocese strengthened its policy on sexual abuse of children by priests. Under the new policy, priests will be dismissed after a single offense and those who know of the abuse will be treated like offenders. Victims will be allowed to break confidentiality agreements previously mandated by the church.
The bishop established a toll-free hot line for victims and a review board of laymen and clergy that would review allegations and report all cases to the prosecutor's office, even if the statute of limitations has expired.
Since April 2002, there were 63 calls to the hot line but all were cases previously reported, diocese spokesman Andrew Walton said. `He made no effort'
Some argue DiMarzio didn't do enough.
"He made no effort to reach out to the victims," said Gary Mulford, who won a lawsuit against the Camden Diocese alleging sex abuse by the clergy. "No victims coordinator has ever reached out to us."
Featured Advertisers All Shore Dr. Steven Neilson Oskar Huber Foster and Gross Spring Garden Marina Advertise with us Mulford and 23 others sued the diocese and were awarded $880,000 in March. Mulford received $25,000, one-third of which went for attorney's fees, he said.
Cathy Norton, whose son Jonathan was abused by former priest James Hopkins in 1995, said DiMarzio gave her family hope that there would be change in the diocese.
"It's going to be, I feel, a real loss for the Camden Diocese," said Norton of DiMarzio's departure. "I guess I trust him," she said.
Norton and her son met with DiMarzio after her son received a $625,000 settlement in 2001 from the Camden Diocese.
Since its founding in 1937, the Camden Diocese has paid out $3.38 million in settlements for 23 sexual abuse cases, $2.27 million of which was paid in the past four years during DiMarzio's tenure, according to Walton. One $725,000 payment in 1999 was not negotiated by DiMarzio.
Msgr. Dominic Bottino, pastor of St. Stephen's in Pennsauken, said DiMarzio was in a difficult position and has also reached out to innocent priests who suffer because of the abuse crisis.
"He's come down extremely forceful regarding the way in which abuse could possibly ever be allowed again to continue in the church. He's been extremely available to victims. He's been a priest to them first and foremost. He's really listened to their hurts," said Bottino.
Kevin Gemmell, Voice of the Faithful coordinator in Camden County, said he thinks DiMarzio was ill-prepared to deal with the sex-abuse issue and arrived in the diocese at a time when it all exploded.
"I don't necessarily hold him responsible for abuse in the Camden Diocese," said Gemmell, who is also active in the national group, which speaks for innocent priests and victims of sex abuse by priests. The group has also demanded to be involved in the church's efforts to reform itself. DiMarzio banned the local group from meeting in churches because he thought their goals were unclear.
But Barbara O'Leary, a Mantua resident and member of the Church of the Incarnation, said she thinks DiMarzio helped guide the diocese well.
"He didn't hide the problems," O'Leary said. "He did what he had to do to assure fairness on all sides."
Staff writer Gene Vernacchio and intern Lauren Karaha contributed to this report. Reach Karen Kennedy-Hall at (856) 317-7828 or email@example.com
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