State Says Audit Bill Is Church Duty
Response to Diocese Lawsuit Blames Unchanged Attitudes
By Sarah C. Vos
Concord Monitor [Concord]
June 8, 2004
State prosecutors accused the Catholic Church of stonewalling yesterday and asked a judge to force the Manchester Diocese to pay for a $200,000 audit of the church's handling of sexual abuse allegations. Only an extensive audit that included interviews with church personnel and volunteers would ensure that the diocese had put a system in place to protect children, the state argued.
Recent actions by the church had only amplified the need, prosecutors said.
Last fall, the church reinstated a priest who had been accused of sexual misconduct but refused to turn its investigation over to the state, as required under the settlement agreement, prosecutors said.
Last month, Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian said that the state had misrepresented facts when it announced that the church had protected sexually abusive priests.
"These comments illustrate that at the highest levels of the Diocese, the attitude that led to the sexual abuse crisis has not changed,"state prosecutors wrote in a court filing signed by Associate Attorney General Ann Larney, Senior Assistant Attorney General Will Delker and Assistant Attorney General Jim Rosenberg. "This prevailing attitude emphasizes the importance of a thorough audit in the manner proposed by the state."
Father Edward Arsenault, an assistant to Bishop John McCormack, denied that the church was stonewalling. "We've been ready and willing to have a compliance audit since last winter," he said.
Arsenault called the state's concern with Christian's comments spurious, as Christian, the second-highest ranking official at the diocese, was not involved with the administration of the settlement agreement.
Prosecutors made their arguments in response to a lawsuit that the church filed late last month, blaming the state for delaying the long-anticipated audit. Yesterday, prosecutors blamed the church for not holding up its end of the agreement.
In the 2002 settlement, signed by Bishop McCormack and then-attorney-general Phil McLaughlin, the diocese avoided child endangerment charges by acknowledging it had protected abusive priests for decades. At the time, state prosecutors said annual audits were the public's best guarantee that the church had corrected its handling of sexual abuse complaints.
The first audit was supposed to begin six months ago but was held up because the two sides could not agree on how it would be done and who would pay for it. Late last month, the disagreement became public when the church filed a lawsuit. The church accused the state of trying to expand the cost and scope of the audit by hiring an outside firm and expecting the church to pay for it.
Prosecutors argued yesterday that the church should have understood it would pay for the audit. In general, targets of a criminal investigation pay for audits that ensure that the criminal behavior has ended, prosecutors said. In addition, the agreement promised the state access to documents and church personnel, including volunteers, they said.
Prosecutors argued that the church's behavior since the agreement, especially with regard to Father Paul Gregoire, a Dover parish priest, showed the need for a detailed audit. Gregoire was removed from his parish in December 2002 after a woman accused him of sexual misconduct nearly two decades earlier. Diocesan officials first said the allegation was credible, but in August 2003, they reinstated Gregoire.
The attorney general's office asked to see the information that the church relied on when it reinstated Gregoire. According to prosecutors, the church said that it had overstated its case against Gregoire but refused to provide documentation, violating the 2002 agreement it had reached with the state.
"Both the Diocese and (Father) Gregoire's attorney expressed concern about providing documentation to the State because that information would invade his privacy if it were released by the state," prosecutors wrote.'
Yesterday, in a separate filing the church argued that the state's proposal to interview church volunteers, like Sunday school teachers and greeters, would have a chilling effect. What happens if a church volunteer gives a wrong answer about the state's sexual abuse reporting laws, they asked. "Will the Sunday school teacher be 'banned' from teaching?" the diocese asked, in a pleading written by its attorney, Manchester lawyer David Vicinanzo.
Rosenberg, the assistant attorney general, said interviewing Sunday school teachers and others who worked with children would allow the state to assess how well the church has trained its volunteers.
"At the end of the day, that's what's really important," Rosenberg said. "So we can gauge the extent to which diocesan personnel understand what's obligated of them under the agreement."
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