Report: Diocese Complying with Sex Abuse Rules

By Greg Smith
Norwich Bulletin [Norwich CT]
Downloaded January 3, 2004

NORWICH -- Leaders of the Diocese of Norwich announced Friday they are meeting their new responsibilities to help combat the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church.

The U.S. Conference of Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People has issued a report showing the Norwich Diocese is in compliance with its charter.

The charter was created last year at the annual Conference of Catholic Bishops to assist churches in implementing safe environment programs to ensure safety and security for children participating in church activities.

"It was drafted in part to encourage healing for victims of child sexual abuse ... an effort to regain trust between the hierarchy of the church and the people of the church." the Rev. Ted F. Tumicki, the Norwich Bishop's Delegate for Safe Environments, said Friday.

Tumicki's position was created by Norwich Bishop Michael R. Cote in November to cope with the expanding scope of duties and programs, most associated with education and awareness relating to sexual abuse issues.

"The efforts were already being made. What we're seeing now is simply more visible and being expanded," Tumicki said.

The news of compliance was relayed in a Nov. 16 letter from The Gavin Group Inc., the organization selected to conduct yearly charter compliance audits for every diocese in the country.

The Office of Child and Youth Protection has scheduled a news conference at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Washington, D.C., to release its full report on the implementation of the charter nationally.

"The effectiveness of the charter has yet to be measured," said Kathleen McChesney, director of the Office of Children and Youth Protection. McChesney declined comment on the Norwich Diocese until after the conference.

Three auditors, from July 7-9, evaluated the Norwich Diocese on how well it was implementing the provisions of the new charter this year. The group issued four recommendations to address any future allegations of abuse.

Three of the recommendations concerned the Sexual Misconduct Policy, including updates for advising victims of sexual abuse that they have a right to report the allegation to civil authorities and document the procedure.

"The position of the Norwich Diocese is that if anyone makes a report of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct, the report be made to the state and/or local law enforcement authorities before contacting the diocese," according to an unsigned written statement released by the diocese Friday.

The Norwich Diocese also updated its policies on handling allegations of sexual abuse of minors, Tumicki said. In addition, the diocese has renegotiated a contract with VIRTUS to expedite their safe environment training programs.

VIRTUS is the series of training programs created by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group, and includes programs such as "Protecting God's Children," which raises awareness about sexual abuse.

The Norwich Diocese faces at least three pending civil cases involving sexual abuse.

Last March, the diocese and former East Lyme priest, Richard T. Buongirno, agreed to pay $700,000 to an unidentified man who allegedly was sexually abused when he was 9.

The suit named former Bishop Daniel Hart and the Norwich Diocese for its part in keeping a known sexual offender in a parish ministry. The Diocese of Norwich, which paid half of the settlement, denied accountability.


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