Camden Diocese Spokesman Discusses Abuse Issue

By Kim Mulford
Cherry Hill Courier Post [Salem MA]
January 13, 2007

Andrew Walton, spokesman for the Camden Diocese, recently responded to questions about the church's position on sexual abuse reforms during a lengthy phone interview. Here is a condensed version of the interview.

Q. The Frontline documentary Hand of God details the case of one man's abuse and the Boston Diocese's response to his allegations. The church has changed how it deals with sex abuse cases in recent years. What are some improvements in the Camden Diocese?

A: The measures (taken by) the church have been effective. The last known instance of abuse in the Diocese of Camden was 12 years ago, in 1995. There have been no new cases of abuse in over a decade. That is, in part, due to the measures put into place in this diocese: the criminal history background checks that are conducted on clergy and nonclergy who work with minors, the safe environment programs the diocese has put into place which have been attended by clergy, teachers, volunteers, parents and students, as well as the screening of candidates for ordination, as well as screening of employees.

These preventative measures have had a real impact. Also, the policy of the diocese is one of zero tolerance. That means that anyone that the church reasonably believes has engaged in abuse is permanently removed from ministry and may not return. There is no one in any type of ministry in the Diocese of Camden who is known to have abused a minor.

The (sexual abuse prevention) programs of the diocese ... are audited by an outside firm ... Each diocese is reviewed on an annual basis to measure compliance. This diocese has been found to be fully compliant in each of the last three years. Audits were not mandatory last year for dioceses that were previously compliant. Bishop Galante requested that an independent audit be done on the diocese last year to subject our policies and procedures to outside review. Again, the diocese was found to be fully compliant ... Also, Bishop (Galante) believes that public accountability is essential and the review of our policies by an independent outside group confirms the strength and effectiveness of our policies and procedures.

... We have, as of last year, conducted almost 7,000 criminal history background checks. Almost 65,000 individuals have received safe-environment training. It's a massive effort. But we believe it's essential, as a preventative measure to do everything possible to reduce the possibility of future abuse.

Q: Barbara Polesir, who leads the South Jersey chapter of SNAP, rates Bishop Galante as "in the middle and trying" to improve. She would like to see Bishop Galante do the following:

Make the names and locations of the accused priests public, since Megan's Law does not apply to most of them. This way, families are better able to protect their children in case of more assaults. "Just to know they are not (working as) priests is not enough," Polesir said.

Stop fighting changes to the current statute of limitations law in New Jersey, which would allow more accused priests to be brought to trial.

A: We believe the statute fulfills an important purpose. In the case of older claims, it's difficult or impossible, because of the passage of time, to evaluate (claims) because those involved are often long deceased, and witnesses and evidence are no longer available ... The present statute already contains provisions for extending the time for filing when there is a legitimate reason for delay. The present statute deals fairly with the special traumas created by sexual abuse. Most victims are motivated by a legitimate search for justice closure and healing. There are those, unfortunately, who support changes to the statute who are not themselves victims of abuse, but stand to gain financially by changes to the statute of limitations.

It's not fair to subject faithful Catholics, who have done nothing wrong, to the financial hardship that results from cases that occurred in the distant past. The hurt of the victims requires something much different than (financial payout). We believe this requires a whole-hearted effort to heal victims through pastoral outreach, therapy, counseling and other efforts aimed at helping victim/survivors and their families' well-being.

... A change in the statute of limitations would do nothing to prevent sexual abuse of minors. Our efforts are focused on prevention of future cases of abuse.

(Regarding) the release of names: Most of the names in this diocese have been public since the early 1990s, with the filing of court cases. Those were in the media repeatedly over the last two decades. In cases where the accused are deceased, they can't defend themselves. They can't harm anyone again, and you have difficulty verifying accusations in those cases. Those names are not made public.

For those who might have been removed from ministry years ago that are either old, infirm or retired ... these cases do not go before the diocesan review board. There is not a question of returning them to ministry. They have no recourse to due process and it would not be appropriate to name them.

However, if a cleric is in ministry, is accused and it is determined that the abuse (allegation) is substantiated, he is permanently removed from ministry and referred to Rome ... and (his name) is disclosed to the public.

No matter what the circumstance, every name is disclosed to county prosecutors.

We think it's important to disclose as many names as possible, and we have.

The bishop hopes to release a report to the people of the diocese once the cases that are before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome and any other cases that are still in progress are fully resolved. The report will include names of those who have had substantiated (claims of abuse) against them.

Silent No Longer


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