|Archdiocese of Newark Condemns Star-ledger Report on Handling of Priest Sex Abuse Cases
December 6, 2010
The Archdiocese of Newark issued a five-page response today blasting a report in the Sunday Star-Ledger detailing Archbishop John J. Myers' compliance with the church's charter on priest sexual abuse since 2002.
The statement by James Goodness, spokesman for the archdiocese, condemns the conclusions in the report as "misleading or outright wrong." The Star-Ledger found Myers has on at least four occasions since 2002 shielded priests accused of sexual abuse against minors and one adult.
Goodness said the archdiocese is complying with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a document that outlines how the church should deal with sexual abuse claims.
"Complying with the Charter means a diocese is doing everything it is supposed to do to protect children, to train clergy, Religious, and laypeople who work with children, and to be open in communicating with parishioners and authorities," Goodness said in the statement, which is included in full below. "The Archdiocese of Newark has passed every audit that has taken place since audits began in 2003. These audits have been comprehensive and lengthy, conducted largely by former agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
Myers declined to comment for the article and questions were referred to Goodness.
The Star-Ledger analysis found:
• Rev. Michael Fugee, who confessed to police eight years ago that he molested a 13-year-old boy, was never ousted from the priesthood, and the archdiocese assigned him last year as chaplain to St. Michael’s Hospital in Newark without telling hospital officials of his past.
• In 2004, the Newark Archdiocese wrote letters to six dioceses in Florida on behalf of the Rev. Wladyslaw Gorak, one week after learning Gorak’s ministry had been terminated in the Orlando Diocese — after he was accused of breaking into a woman’s home.
• Also in 2004, the archdiocese banned the Rev. Gerald Ruane from public ministry after investigating an allegation he molested a boy, but did not publicly notify lay people or other priests. Ruane continued to say Mass and wear his collar in public.
• In 2007, the archdiocese failed to inform lay people that it found a molestation claim credible against the Rev. Daniel Medina, who had worked in parishes in Elizabeth and Jersey City. The case wasn’t made public until a victims group uncovered an alert sent by the archdiocese in September 2008 to other bishops saying Medina was on administrative leave and could not be located.
The statement issued by Goodness today addressed each of those cases individually, and touted the leadership by the Newark Archdiocese in shaping the priest sexual abuse policies.
Complete Statement of James Goodness, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Newark
"What the Star Ledger Story Didn't Tell You About Our Commitment to Communication and to Protecting Children"
Jeff Diamant's Dec. 5 story makes a number of statements and draws conclusions about the commitment of Archbishop John Myers and the Archdiocese of Newark to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. These statements and conclusions are either misleading or outright wrong.
Over close to a year and a half, I worked with this reporter on this specific topic. I outlined steps that the Archbishop and the Archdiocese had taken in each of the cases that he cited in his story, as well as in others. However, most of the information I supplied was not incorporated into the story. As a result, his reporting was, at best, incomplete, and at worst, deceptive.
Mr. Diamant claimed in the fourth paragraph of his story that the Archbishop and the Archdiocese were not abiding by the Charter, but then buried elsewhere in the story that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has found regularly that the Archdiocese complies with the Charter in both the letter and spirit of the law.
Complying with the Charter means a diocese is doing everything it is supposed to do to protect children, to train clergy, Religious, and laypeople who work with children, and to be open in communicating with parishioners and authorities. The Archdiocese of Newark has passed every audit that has taken place since audits began in 2003. These audits have been comprehensive and lengthy, conducted largely by former agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
How can this reporter claim that the Archbishop and the Archdiocese do not follow the Charter when the organization responsible for the Charter says that the Archdiocese and Archbishop do?
Mr. Diamant and The Star-Ledger cannot have it both ways.
This fact alone destroys Mr. Diamant's and The Star-Ledger's premise that the Archbishop and the Archdiocese are not being truthful or forthright in dealing with the issue sexual abuse. But readers of The Star-Ledger, and good people everywhere, should also consider some other problems with Mr. Diamant's reporting.
Contrary to what Mr. Diamant and The Star-Ledger reported, the Archdiocese has for many years distributed announcements to parishes stating that pastors have needed to go on leave after an allegation of misconduct is reported. That general practice was expanded in recent years to include all parochial vicars as well. The general practice of the Archdiocese, based on Archbishop Myers' recommendation, is to announce an allegation in the parish that is the site of the allegation. If after an inquiry by the Archdiocesan Review Board there is sufficient information to undertake a canonical process under Church law, then that information is provided to both the parish where the priest was most recently serving and also to all parishes where that priest had served in the past.
If, however, civil authorities are conducting an investigation, the Archdiocese generally waits until the conclusion of the civil matter until it begins its process. This practice ensures that the Archdiocese does not appear to be influencing any court or criminal process.
With respect to the case involving Fr. Fugee, Mr. Diamant's concentration on some details of the court case masks the stark reality that the Archdiocese was extremely open about the issue. In 2001, at the beginning of the case, the Archdiocese removed Fr. Fugee from ministry and issued a statement to the local parish community and to local media interested in the matter at the time. He remained out of ministry during the entire eight-year life of the case. It was imprudent for the Archdiocese to issue statements or comments during this court process that could be seen as attempts to either influence the jury or the general public on the matter. At the end of the process -- after court officials, the Archdiocesan Review Board, and even the Bergen County Prosecutor -- deemed that Fr. Fugee could return to a ministry, the Archdiocese published in the Archdiocesan newspaper (a matter of public record) his appointment as a hospital chaplain to a hospital that had no pediatric services. In fact, Mr. Diamant read the notice himself.
The court system ultimately determined that Fr. Fugee's conviction was unlawful. Under our system of laws, such a decision should conclude a matter, regardless of how any individual, even a county prosecutor, may feel. Perhaps Mr. Diamant and The Star-Ledger feel that the laws of the State of New Jersey should be fair and impartial only to some people.
The discovery that Fr. Ruane did not follow the dictates of the Archbishop that he no longer present himself as a priest or be involved in ministry was, indeed, distressing to all, especially Archbishop Myers. As soon as he learned of it, the Archbishop immediately took measures to ensure that no such misstep should again occur and that this priest would rededicate himself to living a life of penance and prayer. In the time since those incidents reported in The Star-Ledger story, no further incidents have occurred.
Fr. Ruane's case differs from the usual case that has come to the attention of the Archdiocese. He was not in any parish work, so a notice to a parish community was not considered at the time the allegation came to us.
With respect to Fr. Sita, Mr. Diamant and The Star-Ledger tried to blame Archbishop Myers for actions that occurred almost two decades before he arrived in Newark. When Mr. McAllister's allegation came to the attention of the Archdiocese in 2007, Fr. Sita had left the priesthood some 15 years before, and the Archdiocese had no information about his whereabouts. When his allegation came to our attention, Archbishop Myers directed me personally to report the incident to both the County Prosecutor in Missouri and to the Hudson County Prosecutor. I also spoke at length with many members of the media about the charges made against Fr. Sita so that the public would have available information about this matter. Then, after the Archdiocese learned of his whereabouts, I reported this information to the same authorities. We believe that Fr. Sita is now awaiting trial in Missouri largely because the Archdiocese of Newark made law enforcement aware of the allegation.
Fr. Medina's case is another matter where Archbishop Myers personally directed me to reach out to the Union County Prosecutor. I did so immediately after receiving the information about an allegation. I put the Prosecutor in touch with the mother of the alleged victim, and we cooperated fully with the authorities throughout the long, complex time of this case. Because the matter involved possible immigration issues and the possibility of another allegation, the Archdiocese again was reluctant to issue any interim statements about the matter until 2008, after notifying the Bishops Conference.
For some reason, Mr. Diamant and The Star-Ledger are confused about the letters that the Archdiocese sent to the dioceses in Florida in 2004 about Fr. Gorak. The language that the Orlando Diocese used in its notification to Newark -- that Fr. Gorak "MAY (emphasis added) have had physical contact" with a woman -- was conditional, and so the letters that the Archdiocese sent were not specific as to the charge. The Archdiocese had no direct knowledge of possible wrongdoing, and so it would have been wrong to make a claim that wasn't definitive. However, Msgr. Robert Emery, the vicar general of the Archdiocese at the time, was explicit. Do not give Fr. Gorak an assignment in Florida. Fr. Gorak was expected to return to Newark. Msgr. Emery was ready to respond verbally to any inquiry concerning Fr. Gorak.
Also, in the Spring of 2005, when the alleged victim in Fr. Gorak’s case finally wrote to the Archdiocese and identified herself and the allegation, legal counsel for the Archdiocese immediately turned over all of her information about an alleged attack to the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey. The Attorney General sent it the authorities in Florida. That information, provided by the Archdiocese, resulted in Fr. Gorak's immediate arrest and the resulting criminal prosecution.
That does not sound like failure to communicate.
Mr. Diamant also neglected to report in his story that Fr. Gorak failed to return to Newark, that he failed to communicate with the Archdiocese or Archbishop, and that the Archbishop directed Fr. Gorak be placed on leave without permission to be in ministry.
Fr. Gorak remains out of ministry today.
With respect to the Sita, Medina and Gorak matters, Archbishop Myers has directed that laicization, the canonical process of removing a priest from the clerical state, be instituted for all three priests. Medina also underwent a canonical trial and the results of that trial are currently being reviewed in Rome. All of these events are ongoing. The Archdiocese cannot comment on any case while they are in process or in review, but when these matters are resolved, The Archdiocese will make the information public as well.
Mr. Diamant also neglected to mention in his story that the record of the Archdiocese of Newark in terms of dealing with clergy sexual abuse is long and broad. In 1985, the Archdiocese instituted its first policy of reporting and investigating allegations of abuse. In 1993, the Archdiocese of Newark instituted one of the first Review Boards — consisting largely of laypeople with extensive legal and investigative or law enforcement experience — to deal with investigating allegations. Archbishop Myers strengthened and broadened this volunteer panel, and also broadened the outreach process to victims through a Victim's Assistance Coordinator, after he came to Newark.
The Archdiocese of Newark also helped develop and implement a program of sexual abuse awareness training that is in use in dioceses throughout the country.
Like all of the other Catholic dioceses in the State of New Jersey, The Archdiocese of Newark is a signatory to a Memorandum of Understanding — the only one in the State — among the Attorney General and County Prosecutors, and reports all allegations.
Finally, with few exceptions, the Archdiocese does notify the parish communities that are the site of an allegation of misconduct. Those exceptions can include cases of: a deceased priest, who is no longer able to defend himself against an allegation; a priest who already has been removed from ministry, or; a case where the Review Board determines quickly that there is no basis for an allegation.
There certainly are people in this country, which The Star-Ledger calls critics of the Archdiocese and Archbishop Myers, who think that the Archdiocese and Archbishop are not doing enough to deal with sexual abuse matters. That is their opinion, and they indeed have been and will continue to be vocal about it.
To be truthful, Archbishop Myers and the Archdiocese of Newark believe that there should be high and ethical standards in place for dealing with victims of abuse and parish communities affected. That is the promise made in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People — a promise that the Archbishop pledged to keep in 2002, and does keep even today.
In contrast, the story that The Star-Ledger ran on Dec. 5, re-read with this additional information that Mr. Diamant conveniently left out, falls short on truth and transparency.
Even a dying newspaper must maintain high ethical standards.
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