DAs Press Church for Reports

By Timothy O'Connor
Times Herald-Record
March 19, 2002

The Archdiocese of New York should hand over to prosecutors all past allegations of sexual abuse against any living priest, a local prosecutor said yesterday.

"Not just the allegations going forward," said Sullivan County District Attorney Steve Lungen. "I want to know what's happened in the past, that should be turned over to law enforcement."

A spokesman for the archdiocese declined to comment on Lungen's request, saying the New York City-based diocese is "not going to have a dialogue through the media."

The conflagration over charges of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and accusations that church hierarchy protected many of the priests has spread from Boston to Bridgeport, Conn. New York's Cardinal Edward Egan was the Roman Catholic bishop in Bridgeport while priests facing allegations of sexual abuse were allowed to continue to work for years.

The spokesman, Joe Zwilling, said a policy is in place "that when there is reasonable cause to suspect that abuse has taken place, if the victim does not oppose the reporting, the Archdiocese of New York will make the appropriate report to the appropriate civil authorities."

Not good enough, local prosecutors said yesterday.

"It's not for them to decide," Lungen said. "These are matters for law enforcement, not for the church to investigate internally and then say whether to call law enforcement."

Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams agreed.

"What would be ideal," he said, "would be to have a representative of the particular institution have immediate contact with law enforcement agencies."

Delaying that, he said, can "cause irreparable harm to a successful prosecution of the case."

Lungen said the archdiocese "stonewalled" his office when he tried to track down a Monticello priest accused in 1991 of molesting a 15-year-old boy. The Rev. Juan Bazalar fled Sullivan County and had to be extradited from Canada. Lungen said he is convinced the church helped the priest avoid capture.

Bazalar was convicted of sexual assault in 1993. A state appellate court overturned the verdict. Bazalar was acquitted at a second trial after a key prosecution witness died between trials.

The sting of the church's "lack of cooperation" in that case has stayed with Lungen.

"People come to a house of worship to be protected, comforted, aided," he said. "When does the church stand up for its parishioners, the victims in these cases?"



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