State: Diocese Can't Review Itself

By Mike Recht
Associated Press, carried in Portsmouth Herald
June 8, 2004

CONCORD - The state attorney general's office indicated Monday the Diocese of New Hampshire can't be trusted to limit the scope of any future review of its policy on sexual abuse by priests.

In a filing that replied to a motion by the diocese in Hillsborough County Superior Court, the attorney general's office said the diocese "is seeking to redefine and narrow the broad language" of an agreement between the state and the diocese to audit diocese policy.

It said the diocese wants to allow the attorney general's office to be limited to reading the policies and procedures adopted by the diocese to determine if the diocese is in compliance.

The diocese had no comment on the state filing, at least until it had a chance to look at it. However, it did file a memorandum of law Monday to support its earlier motion.

The audit is required by the 2002 agreement, but prosecutors and church leaders have wrangled for months over how the audit would be conducted and who would pay for it.

Church lawyer David Vicinanzo said in a motion the state has been trying to renegotiate the terms of the audit. The state is trying to get the diocese to fund "an unnecessary and exorbitant $1 million tab," church lawyer David Vicinanzo wrote.

The attorney general's office said the diocese wanted the office limited to interviewing one diocese official to determine compliance.

"This is hardly a way to ensure a system of accountability, oversight, transparency and training as the agreement requires," the attorney general's office said.

"The diocese suggestion that the audit include the interview of only one individual is extremely risky in light of the history of the sexual abuse scandal within the Diocese of Manchester," it said. "In many instances, diocesan hierarchy went to great lengths to prevent the public disclosure of new allegations of sexual abuse against clergy.

"Diocesan hierarchy reassigned accused priests to new posts, told victims that offending priests had admitted their conduct when they had not, and even misled government officials regarding the abusive histories of accused clergy.

"The need for an unbiased independent audit is also underscored by the conduct of the diocese since the time that the agreement was signed. ... the diocese has stonewalled efforts of the attorney general's office to obtain information regarding the reinstatement of Fr. Paul Gregoiore - an inquiry that is plainly permitted by the agreement," the attorney general's office said.

The filing also harshly criticized Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian, who recently said state prosecutors misrepresented the facts when they announced in 2002 that church leaders had protected sexually abusive priests.

"The investigative material released by the state ... demonstrates that he (Christian) misled victims of sexual abuse by claiming that accused priests had admitted their actions when they had not, and even misled a probation officer about the sexually abusive pasts of one of his priests," the reply said.

"Bishop Christian's comments further highlight the need for a comprehensive audit that looks past the interview with just one member of the diocesan hierarchy. ... A survey of diocesan personnel is essential to ensure ... attitudes of individuals such as Bishop Christian do not prevail in the institution."

The attorney general's office said "the final objective is not just to conduct a perfunctory, technical view of the diocese's conduct, but to evaluate whether the diocese has established a system that protects children from abuse and does not repeat the problems that gave rise to the agreement itself."

The attorney general's office also disagreed with the diocese attempt to have the state pay for the audit.

It said standard practice "mandates that the target of an audit stemming from a criminal investigation bears responsibility for paying for the audit." It also disagreed with the diocese that the price is excessive. It said the cost is in line with fees paid by outside auditors providing highly specialized skills to government."

In its memorandum, the diocese said it "has attempted to fulfill its duty under the agreement." It said the attorney genera* has failed to perform the agreed-upon audit," and that "the audit language of the agreement ... is plain and unambiguous."

Diane Murphy Quinlan, associate delegate for ministerial conduct and vice chancellor of the Diocese, said diocesan personnel across the state "have been working diligently to promote a safe environment for children and young people.

"Thousands of people have been trained and are currently undergoing criminal background screening and I am working with a lay safe environment coordinator from every Catholic parish and school in the state to ensure that this is a work of the whole church."

The Rev. Edward Arsenault, delegate for ministerial conduct, added that "our Diocese was directly involved in the development of state-of-the-art safe environment training as early as 1998 and then implemented the Protecting God's Children training, including extensive training on mandatory reporting, in September 2001.

"For anyone to even intimate that we have not taken this seriously as a church is simply wrong."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.