State, Diocese Clash over Sex Abuse Audit Cost

By Scott Brooks
The Union Leader [New Hampshire]
Downloaded May 30, 2004

NASHUA The state and the Catholic Diocese of Manchester are headed to court to resolve a dispute over a series of long-awaited audits of the church's sexual abuse policy reforms.

The diocese's law firm Nixon, Peabody LLT of Manchester filed suit yesterday in hopes of expediting the audit process. The motion in Hillsborough County Superior Court asks Judge Carol Ann Conboy to order the state to perform the first audit as mandated in a 2002 agreement between the state and the diocese.

Under the agreement, the first audit was due at the end of last year. The agreement calls for a total of five audits, ending Dec. 31, 2007.

In Nashua last night, Attorney General Peter Heed said the state and the diocese disagree over who should foot the bill for the audits.

The agreement is not specific on this point, but Heed, who addressed the issue with members of Voice of the Faithful last night at Millette Manor, said the state has always believed the diocese should pay.

The state is insisting on a widespread audit, one that both sides say could be costly. To date, Heed said, the diocese has sought to limit the audit's scope.

"Our belief is that the scope has to be extensive, thorough and complete," Heed said. "Their concept of the audit is clearly different than our concept. We seem to be a long way apart on that."

Heed questioned why the diocese would resist the state's efforts at doing a comprehensive audit.

"It might tell the truth," Heed said. "It might find out something, for heaven's sake. They've said you can come in and get started as long as you did it on our terms."

The 2002 agreement negotiated by former attorney general Philip McLaughlin calls on the diocese to submit to an annual audit to ensure it has complied with various reforms to its sexual abuse policies. The state may have access to all diocesan records and may interview church personnel.

In exchange, the state agreed not to prosecute the diocese or its agents for the past handling of sexual abuse allegations.

The diocese's motion yesterday claims the state was silent about the audits for months after the agreement was signed. Between May 2003 and last December, it says, the Attorney General's office alluded to expectations that the audits would be far more extensive and expensive than previously thought.

According to the motion, the state has contacted auditors from Boston and New York, whose work would have a first-year price tag of between $200,000 and $300,000. Over five years, it says, the cost would amount to over $1 million.

"While the Attorney General's Office may propose projects beyond what is necessary, or beyond the means of the State, it may not after-the-fact unilaterally rewrite the Agreement to suit its evolving preferences," the motion says.

The state did not have the manpower, nor the funds to perform an audit, it claims. The diocese says the state's position changed as a result.

"This should not be complicated," Diocese attorney David Vicinanvo said in a written statement. "We have been waiting for the compliance audit since last winter and expected it to go very well.

"Meanwhile, the state has been trying to renegotiate the scope and get the Diocese to pick up an unnecessary and exorbitant $1 million tab. It's unfair and unworthy of the government, which is supposed to honor its commitments like everyone else."

The diocese claims two assistant attorneys general William Delker and James Rosenberg have acknowledged that at the time of the agreement, they did not intend for the diocese to pay for the audits.

In fact, the motion says, "they have candidly admitted that it was only after they received estimates for more expensive than anticipated that they unilaterally decided" the diocese should pay.

Delker denied any such admission.

"Our position all along has been that it is common practice for the target to pay for an audit," Delker said. "That's been our position from day one."


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