Two Years After Agreement, Church Audit Hasn't Begun
State, Church Can't Agree on Who Should Pay
WMUR Channel 9 [New Hampshire]
August 24, 2004
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Nearly two years after the state and the Catholic church reached an agreement on the church sexual abuse scandal, a church audit still hasn't begun.
A superior court hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 24 in the dispute between the attorney general and the Diocese of Manchester, which disagrees with the state over the extent of the oversight as well as who should cover the cost, estimated at $200,000 for the first year alone.
The audit is required by the December 2002 agreement, in which Catholic leaders acknowledged having failed to protect children from abusive priests and agreed to reform their policies. In exchange, the state did not prosecute.
But prosecutors and church leaders have wrangled for months over the audit.
Will Delker, senior assistant attorney general, said that the church and state have had a series of productive meetings, and the possibility remains that an agreement could be reached before the court date.
"We hope that we'll be able to move forward in a direction that will satisfy everyone involved, and we won't need to come to formal litigation over this," Delker said.
Church officials did not respond to multiple requests by the Concord Monitor for comment on Monday.
"At this point, I really don't care who pays for it, as long as it's done," said Anne Pullen of Concord, state chairwoman for Voice of the Faithful, an organization of churchgoers that supports the victims.
Pullen said she thought the delay in the audit had marred the 2002 agreement between the church and the state, limiting the value of a settlement that was initially hailed as landmark.
The audit is considered crucial because it speaks to the "bottom line" of the safety of children in the diocese, said Anne Coughlin, a Concord Catholic who has been outspoken about the church's mishandling of abusive priests.
"Are kids in this diocese safe? ... I don't think you can answer that question yes right now," Coughlin said. "There are a lot of unanswered questions that this audit is supposed to answer."
Even though the terms of the audit have been in dispute, the settlement has yielded other benefits, Delker said, starting with the admission of wrongdoing and the release of past documents. Additionally, the church has apprised the state of changes in its policies aimed at protecting children, he said.
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