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  Delaware Diocese Reveals 15 Abuse Cases

By Laura Ungar
News Journal (Wilmington, DE)
March 13, 2002

The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington said it has identified 15 "substantiated allegations" of child sexual abuse by priests in the past half century, the last case occurring 10 years ago.

The revelation comes amid intense national scrutiny after claims that priests in Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Allentown, Pa., molested dozens of children.

The Wilmington Diocese ministers to Catholics in 56 parishes in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Diocese spokesman Robert G. Krebs said Tuesday that none of the local priests involved currently is active in the priesthood and most have died. He also said the diocese has rigorous screening procedures designed to prevent future problems.

Krebs would not release the names of the priests involved or say in which parishes they served. Other dioceses have released such details.

"People have to have a certain amount of trust in their church," Krebs said. "Granted, that trust has been shaken for a lot of people with what's been in the headlines these days. The first step is to acknowledge the problems that we've had."

The Rev. Michael A. Saltarelli, bishop for the Wilmington Diocese, was unavailable for comment Tuesday. But in a recent written statement, he apologized for past problems.

"I also apologize for misjudgments made in the past in the church, including our diocese, regarding the placement of clergy who have committed abuse into other assignments," he wrote. "As we now know, in many instances such placements only served to create new victims and compound the damage."

Krebs said none of the reassignments occurred recently. But in decades past, he said, priests would be sent to psychiatric facilities and reassigned if they were determined to be well. The incidents sometimes were not reported to civil authorities.

All that has changed, Krebs said. In 1985, the diocese adopted written policies that deal with such allegations. They include responding promptly, complying with civil law, cooperating with investigators, reaching out to the victims and dealing as openly as possible with the community.

If the allegation is supported by sufficient evidence, the priest is to be removed from ministerial duties and referred for medical treatment, often in a Catholic mental-health facility. Krebs said priests are not allowed back to the ministry afterward.

Dr. Fred Berlin, founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic in Baltimore, which serves priests and others, said the psychiatric community doesn't talk about "curing" priests and others diagnosed with pedophilia. Professionals usually recommend keeping them out of situations where they might be tempted to molest again.

"They certainly shouldn't be priests functioning where they have contact with children," he said. "The main priority is what's going to be in the best interest of the children."

To prevent pedophiles from entering the priesthood, the Wilmington Diocese has developed screening procedures. Prospective seminarians are subjected to background checks, psychological evaluations and extensive interviews, Krebs said.

Such policies and procedures may have helped prevent abuse cases in the past decade, Krebs said. Ten of the 15 cases happened between 1967 and 1992, Krebs said. The other five occurred between 1952 and 1967. Krebs said hundreds of priests have served the diocese during the past 50 years, but he couldn't say exactly how many. There are 126 today, serving mostly in Delaware.

In one case that became public in 1989, the Rev. Edward F. Dudzinski Jr. was sued for $11 million for allegedly assaulting a teen-age boy in 1984 and 1985. Dudzinski had been assigned to a Wilmington church at one point, although he was neither a priest nor an associate priest at the time of the alleged assaults. Krebs said he was removed from the priesthood after the allegations were substantiated. He is not listed in a 2001 national directory of Catholic priests.

Like the Dudzinski case, most cases that have become public nationally occurred in decades past, said Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

"A lot of these cases in the news are old, which says a lot about the safeguards the dioceses have put in place in the last decade," Gibbs said. "But every one is too many."

 
 

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