Unrepentant Catholic Church Should Stop Stalling and Agree to an Audit

Concord Monitor
January 23, 2005

With nitpicking and specious arguments, the Diocese of Manchester is trying to avoid fulfilling the agreement it made with the state in 2002 to escape prosecution for coddling sex abusers. That shows continued bad faith on the church's part. Its recalcitrance is proof that the diocese has failed to accept full responsibility for not protecting the children in its charge.

Negotiations between the attorney general's office and the diocese broke down long ago over two key issues: who should pay for audit and how complete it would be. The cost is estimated to run between $400,000 to $450,000 over the four-year length of the agreement.

Since it is common for the targets of a criminal investigation to pay for an audit, the state did not put the requirement in writing. Now the state says the diocese should pay, and the diocese says the state should pay. Taxpayers, of course, shouldn't have to foot the bill to ensure that priests aren't molesting children. Yet in the interest of moving forward, the cost should be shared.

The audit's goal is to determine whether church policies to prevent and report abuse exist and work. On paper, plenty are in place. But the diocese is unwilling to allow auditors to ask the questions necessary to determine whether they are in use and effective. What, we wonder, is Bishop John McCormack hiding now?

The matter was brought before Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Carol Ann Conboy on Thursday, and she hopes to issue ruling soon. She should find for the state.

The diocese says it believes that allowing auditors to question church personnel and volunteers about the effectiveness of its programs would violate the separation of church and state.

"This is a difficult, complicated issue, and it's one of the reasons we have a Constitution," diocesan lawyer David Vicinanzo said.

That's nonsense. There is no First Amendment issue in question here. The auditors are not going to ask people whether they think the church is infallible or delve into matters of religious belief or practice. They simply want to know whether the policies the diocese has on paper are being followed and determine whether they are effective. If not, more needs to be done. That's the whole point of the audit, to make sure policies set up to protect kids do so.

Shielding sex abusers and deceiving parishioners, parents, victims and investigators are serious matters. The church's leaders - none more than McCormack - acceded to the agreement because prison was a possible alternative. Now that time has softened that threat, they are returning to the secretive ways of old. That's no way to rebuild the confidence of parishioners and the public.

The diocese conducted its own audit last summer and found that everything was just fine. All allegations of the sexual abuse of a minor reported since its previous audit a year earlier were reported to public authorities, it announced in its report. In short, the church said, "Believe in us." That's not good enough.

Vicinanzo continued the "trust us" approach last week. "You ask most lay people in the Catholic church today, and they know that the Catholic church is the safest place for kids," he said. But that's what priests claimed and parents believed before the church confessed to its long history of shielding the sex abusers in its ranks.

That the claim of safety now comes from the lawyer working to help the diocese avoid scrutiny makes it all the less credible. Judge Conboy should order that the audit be conducted promptly on the state's terms.


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