How a committee report offered comfort to sex abuse survivors

National Catholic Reporter

February 22, 2020

By Mark Redmond

In 2018 Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, announced that he would be forming a committee comprised of lay people to produce a report which would list those priests who had been credibly accused of abusing children. When I read that, I emailed him offering to serve on the committee. I have spent my entire career, almost 40 years, in the field of child protection and safety, I am a Catholic, and I knew Bishop Coyne from prior matters. He emailed back, “Thank you, because I was going to ask you.”

There were seven of us on the committee, including one survivor of abuse by a priest. At the first meeting, Coyne announced that this report was ours and only ours to write and that he would not attend future meetings unless we invited him. He vowed not to change one name, one comma. He also promised us total and complete access to any file of any priest: living, deceased, retired, active — it did not matter, we could see them all, at any time.

A lawyer, a retired state’s attorney, was named head of the committee, but in short order he had to take time off for medical reasons, and I was asked to take over, which I accepted. We started meeting in October of that year and predicted to Coyne that our report would be complete by the end of the year. Once we started digging into the 50-plus files, some of which dated back to the 1940s, we had to tell him we would need many more months. “Take the time that you need in order to get it right,” was his response, which we all appreciated.

The first thing we had to establish was our definition of “credibly accused,” because unfortunately we learned there is no one universally accepted definition among Catholic dioceses. We reviewed reports already done by other dioceses and settled upon that used by the Diocese of Syracuse, New York, which is that an allegation that, based upon the facts of the case, meets one or more of the following thresholds:

1. Natural, reasonable, plausible and probable
2. Corroborated with other evidence or another source
3. Acknowledged/admitted to by the accused

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