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  Bishop, Attorney General Discuss Allegations
Church, State Of¤cials Exchange Lists of Priests Accused of Abuse

By Steven Church and Laura Ungar
News Journal [Wilmington DE]
April 10, 2002

Delaware's top prosecutors and Catholic Church officials exchanged lists Tuesday of priests suspected of molesting children.

Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli, head of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, met with Attorney General M. Jane Brady and discussed abuse claims against 11 priests since the 1960s.

After the meeting, Brady said Saltarelli gave her the names of five priests who church officials say may have molested children in Delaware.

Brady, in turn, told Saltarelli that her office has received complaints about six priests. Prosecutors said the lists do not overlap.

Seven people have called prosecutors since the end of March, accusing six priests of sexually abusing children. Not all of the priests have been identified by name by their accusers, prosecutors said. All of the victims currently are adults, said Ferris Wharton, Brady's chief deputy.

Brady said she does not know how many, if any, of the priests on the prosecutors' list still are working with children. None of those on Saltarelli's list currently are performing priestly duties, she added.

Saltarelli characterized Tuesday's meeting as cordial.

"I welcomed this meeting," he said in a news release. "I emphasized with the attorney general that our overriding concern is the welfare of our children."

Brady said the bishop was "totally cooperative."

She added, "We don't expect this to be the one and only discussion on this issue."

The Wilmington Diocese, which includes 56 parishes in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, has identified 15 priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse against them during the past 50 years. During that time, hundreds of priests have served in the diocese, church officials said.

Only five of those 15 priests still are living and also are accused of molesting in Delaware, Brady said.

Prosecutors said they will review the allegations to determine which priests should be investigated by police. Victims who request help are being referred to counselors, Wharton said.

Police will be asked to investigate only if there is a victim willing to come forward and if the molestation occurred within the statute of limitations, said Wharton, who attended the meeting. In most cases, charges can be filed only if a sexual-abuse crime occurred after July 1987.

The meeting was set up so prosecutors and church officials could lay out plans to cooperate on molestation investigations, Brady said. Wharton said he expects diocese officials to give police access to church documents.

Church officials have promised to cooperate with authorities.

Prosecutors also will work with the diocese to make sure the church's procedures for handling child-abuse claims comply with state law, Brady said.

Brady said she turned over the names of priests that her office has in order to allow the church to take action against them in case the statute of limitations makes it impossible to prosecute the men.

Brady, who is Catholic, said her personal views will not influence how the investigations are handled. "My religion is not a factor at all."

Church officials said they had no immediate plans to take action against any of the priests on Brady's list.

"Nothing is actionable at our end at this point," said Robert G. Krebs, spokesman for the diocese.

Last week, the diocese issued a press release announcing that it had relieved a priest of his duties after an anonymous allegation that he abused a child years ago.

The Rev. William E. Irwin, 63, who was a priest in residence at St. Mary Magdalen parish in Brandywine Hundred, contacted Saltarelli's office after the phone call.

The diocese reported the accusation to the state Division of Family Services. But the agency handles abuse only within families, said Joseph Smack, executive assistant at the division. When the office receives a call about abuse outside a family, he said, the matter is referred to the police.

State police spokesman Tim Winstead said an investigator called the church employee who took the anonymous call accusing Irwin of abuse.

Because the claim is anonymous, there is not enough information to justify opening a formal criminal investigation against Irwin, Winstead said.

Saltarelli and Brady discussed Irwin Tuesday.

When asked where Irwin is staying now or whether he still is being paid by the diocese, Krebs said he did not know.

John Humphrey, executive director of the Children's Advocacy Center, which interviews possible victims of sexual abuse, said he was glad the names were released to Brady by the diocese. He said the church needs to follow the law just like everyone else.

"I think the allegations need to come out," said Humphrey, a Catholic.

He said he believes the release of the names is going to be a comfort to the victims, who have been struggling with their pain for a long time.

"A victim is a victim is a victim, no matter who the offender is," he said.

Valerie Marek, executive director of Survivors of Abuse in Recovery, said the controversy is causing victims to come forward and will continue to do so.

"The church really should do something proactive," said Marek, a Catholic. "There's got to be some way to prevent this from happening in the future."

 
 

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