Bishop Accountability
 
 

DIOCESE OF FALL RIVER MA

Accused Priests: 32
Total Priests: 1,353 (423 diocesan, 930 religious)
Claims: 216 (131 vs. Porter, 85 vs. other priests)
Settlements: $16,006,000 ($13,281,000 Porter, $2,725,000 non-Porter)
Sources of Funds:
Insurers: $6,575,859 ($5,770,000 Porter, $805,859 non-Porter)
Diocesan Funds: 9,430141 ($7,511,000 Porter, $1,919,141 non-Porter)

See letter and attachment by Bishop George W. Coleman.

Diocese Details Abuse
Report says 32 priests accused of sexual misconduct since 1954

By Sean Gonsalves
Cape Cod Times
February 21, 2004

FALL RIVER - Thirty-two priests who served in the Fall River Diocese since 1954 have been accused of molesting minors, according to a clergy sex-abuse report released yesterday.

The 216 claims made against those priests cost the church $16 million to settle.

The report was issued by the Fall River Diocese, which includes 101 churches in Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod and the islands, as part of a nationwide review of abuse claims.

"The tragedy of clergy sexual abuse of minors has touched every diocese in the nation and affected in some way every Catholic," Fall River Diocese Bishop George W. Coleman said in a prepared statement yesterday. "To those who have suffered abuse at the hands of anyone ministering in the name of the Fall River Diocese, and to their families, I extend as bishop my most sincere apologies."

Coleman said there has been a "growing awareness" within the church of the profound suffering caused by child sex abuse. The anguish, he said, is "compounded when the act is perpetrated by a priest."

Coleman's report, titled "A Time To Heal," includes statistics compiled by the diocese that will be part of a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops survey compiled by the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York City.

The full report will be released Feb. 27.

Meanwhile, dozens of dioceses across the nation have published their own reports.

"It is my hope that we will have a more complete understanding of how the diocese has been affected by this troubling matter and the steps it has taken to address it," Coleman wrote.

Rev. Porter case

Of the 216 claims, 131 were made against the Rev. James Porter, a Fall River priest who was convicted of multiple counts of child molestation in the early 1990s.

The Porter case also accounts for most of the $16 million in settlements - $13 million was paid to his victims - and led then-Bishop Sean O'Malley to establish procedures aimed at preventing other priest from committing similar offenses.

Credited with a forthright approach to the Porter case, O'Malley now heads the Archdiocese of Boston, which has been plagued by the sex abuse scandal.

While insurance covered $6.5 million of the settlement costs, the claims drained about $9.4 million from an $11 million account created from the sale of non-parish properties, investment income and other funds. The diocese did not use funds from the Catholic Charities Appeal Fund.

In the half-century the survey reviewed, there have been 1,353 priests serving in parishes and other capacities throughout the region. The 32 who had sex-abuse claims lodged against them represent 2.3 percent of those serving in Fall River since 1954.

Comparing the Fall River Diocese to two other New England dioceses of similar size, the Diocese of Worcester reported 112 claims against 45 priests and paid $2.5 million in settlements related to sex abuse allegations.

The Bridgeport, Conn., Diocese reported 107 claims made against 32 priests and paid $37.7 million in settlements.

According to clergy sex-abuse researcher Terry McKiernan, who operates the Web site Bishopaccountability.org and was one of the co-founders of Voice of the Faithful, the Fall River results are about average when comparing them with the results in similar-sized New England dioceses.

Unanswered questions

Though McKiernan said the report includes lots of important information, he said he believes it leaves some important questions unanswered.

"Even if you accept all the numbers, the 2.3 percent is more than double the percentage that Vatican officials and other church leaders have been saying," McKiernan said.

McKiernan, a lifelong Catholic, also noted the high number of religious order priests included in the report. He said this is significant because religious order priests typically don't stay in one diocese for more than several years, and they report to their religious order superior, not to the local bishop.

Diocesan priests, on the other hand, generally serve their entire priesthood in the same diocese.

"It would be interesting to see how many claims there's been against the diocesan priests alone," McKiernan said. That would give local Catholics a better understanding of how the diocese has handled allegations of abuse against long-term parish priests, he explained.

McKiernan said he was also struck by the increase in the number of accused priests. Before the report, he said, local advocates for sex-abuse victims thought there were 25 accused priests.

"Who are the other seven? Where are they? Some of them are dead but some are still alive. Where are they in the community?"

In the fall, it was discovered that a priest who had been accused of sexual misconduct had gone on to become a substitute teacher at Falmouth High School. Gilbert Simoes was suspended from the Fall River Diocese in 1986. In 1989, he start substitute teaching and continued that work for nearly 10 years.

Fall River officials maintain they had no idea Simoes was teaching high school students during his tenure at the school.

A thorough report

As for the settlement money, McKiernan said he thought it was strange that more than half the Fall River Diocese settlement money came out of diocesan funds and was not paid by insurance companies.

"The percentage of payouts that came out of diocesan funds seems high. The numbers from other dioceses that I've seen, most of the settlement money is paid by insurance companies, as high as 95 percent," he said.

In Lafayette, La., where the clergy sex-abuse scandal first came to national attention in the mid-1980s, insurance paid $25 million of the diocese's settlement claims. A little less than $1 million came from diocesan funds.

But Sandwich resident Patricia Stebbins, an active member of Corpus Christi Parish in Sandwich, said she was pleased with what she described as a thorough and open report.

"My initial impression was that the (diocese) charter is based on the things set in place by Bishop (Sean) O'Malley 10 years ago, which has been working quite well. I was glad to see that reflected in the report," she said yesterday, referring to the abridged policy directives concerning abuse allegations re-printed in the report.

"I think it shows an honest desire, from the heart and soul of the church, to correct a tragic wrong, and to make sure that it never happens again. Everything from screening seminary candidates to being mindful of every child in every parish is the aim of the document," Stebbins said.

"I really think the policies in place now is something that is going to work," she added.

The report yesterday was published in the diocese's newspaper, the Anchor, and is available on the Web site fallriverdiocese.org.


Church releases abuse stats


By Kathleen Durand
(Fall River MA) Herald News
February 21, 2004

http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=11003649&BRD=1710&PAG=461&dept_id=99784&rfi=6

FALL RIVER -- There have been 216 allegations of sexual abuse of minors by 32 priests in the Fall River Diocese in the last 50 years and 131, or 60.65 percent, of those accusations were against former priest James R. Porter.

That is one of the statistics in "A Time to Heal," a report being released to diocesan parishes this weekend by Bishop George W. Coleman.

Porter pleaded guilty in 1993 to 41 charges of sexual abuse, involving 28 children in the diocese in the 1960s and 1970s. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison but although he is due to be let go, he still has not been released. He is awaiting a hearing on March 2 in New Bedford Superior Court to determine if he is a sexually dangerous person.

District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr. filed for the hearing when he was notified that Porter was due to be released from jail at the end of January. Porter is being held at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater.

Walsh was not in his office Friday afternoon. First Assistant District Attorney Gerald FitzGerald said Walsh had not seen the bishop’s report and would not have a comment on it.

The report states that the diocese and its insurance companies paid $13.2 million in settlements to Porter victims and $2.7 million in settlements to the victims of 31 other priests. Porter victims accounted for 83 percent of the $16 million in settlements the diocese and insurance companies paid since the early 1950s. The insurance companies paid settlements of $6.5 million and the diocese paid settlements of $9.4 million of its own funds to the sexual abuse victims.

"The tragedy of clergy sexual abuse of minors has touched every diocese in the nation and affected in some way every Catholic," Coleman said in his introductory letter to the report. "To those who have suffered abuse at the hands of anyone ministering in the name of the Fall River Diocese, and to their families, I extend as bishop my most sincere apologies."

Referring to the fact that some church officials here and throughout the United States covered up allegations of sexual abuse by clergy, Coleman said, "The sinful actions of a few priests and the inadequate response of some bishops have caused serious harm to victims and to their families."

Coleman said that in the past decade there has been a growing awareness of the serious and long-lasting damage that is caused by an incident of sexual abuse and "the damage is compounded when the act is perpetrated by a priest."

The bishop said he hopes the report will give people "a more complete understanding of how the diocese has been affected by this troubling matter and the steps it has taken to address it."

John Kearns, spokesman for the diocese, said the bishop and his staff have talked about and planned for the report for a couple of months. The John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York City will release an unprecedented nationwide study next week on the scope of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy from 1950 through 2002. Kearns said Coleman and other bishops agreed to provide statistics for the study.

"Bishop Coleman and other bishops have decided Catholics want to know how their church has been affected," Kearns said. He said the bishop also wants people to know what steps the diocese has taken to address the abuse problem.

"A Time to Heal" has a section that details what the diocese has done since 1993 in response to abuse, outreach to victims, abuse prevention initiatives and providing people with information on how to report an incident of abuse.

"The Fall River Diocese was confronted with the tragic realities of clergy sexual abuse with the case of former priest James Porter almost 12 years ago," Coleman said in his letter. "Since that time, the implementation of policies and practices designed to safeguard children has been a priority. I can assure you this remains a priority today.

"Our efforts in the area of sexual abuse response and prevention will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and improved where needed to ensure that we take all possible precautions to avoid any incident of abuse in our diocese."

According to the report, 1,353 priests served in the Fall River Diocese during the last 50 years. Of these, 423 were diocesan priests and 930 were priests from various religious orders, such as Franciscans, Jesuits and Dominicans. The 32 priests accused of sexual misconduct represent just 2.3 percent of the total number of priests. The report states that none of the 32 priests are in active ministry and some are in fact deceased.

Of the 216 total claims of abuse, the reports says that 210 were about incidents that occurred before 1980 and only six were based on incidents since 1980.

According to the report, 90 percent of the claims were not brought to the attention of the diocese until 1990.

Porter had been accused of molesting 99 children at the time of his trial in the early 1990s, 68 of them were part of a $5 million settlement reached between the victims and the Catholic Church as a result of a civil suit filed by the victims.

The report stresses that none of the settlement money paid to victims came from parish funds, Catholic Charities Appeal proceeds, diocesan collections or any other designated funds. It says that the money came from an undesignated fund made up of proceeds from the sale of non-parish properties, unallocated investment income and other non-designated monies amassed over the past 50 years.

The undesignated fund had grown to about $11 million, but has now been almost depleted by the abuse claim settlements, according to the report.

"A Time to Heal" provides background and contact information on Arlene A. McNamee, the diocesan victim assistance coordinator, and Joanne P. Long, the bishop’s delegate to the Diocesan Review Board, an advisory body to the bishop on matters of abuse.

It also provides an abridged version of the diocesan sexual abuse policy. The policy mandates that suspected cases of child abuse be reported to civil and diocesan authorities and that the diocese shall offer counseling and pastoral support to the alleged victims and their families.

Alleged perpetrators are placed on leave during the investigation of allegations and are permanently removed if the allegations are found to be credible. The allegations are reviewed by a board made up primarily of laity.

The diocese requires criminal background checks and abuse prevention workshops for all clergy, employees and volunteers who have substantial contact with children.

A recent independent audit of the diocese’s programs, policies and procedures in respect to abuse prevention and response determined that the diocese is in full compliance with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."

The full report is available on the diocesan Web site, www.fallriverdiocese.org.

Kathleen Durand may be reached at kdurand@heraldnews.com.


 

 
 

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