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  Audit Chides Diocese

By Kathryn Marchocki
New Hampshire Union Leader
May 5, 2007

http://www.unionleader.com/article.aspx?headline=Audit+chides+diocese&articleId=c6bba591-829c-4911-95af-065e6f1662a5

Concord An independent audit found "critical gaps" in the Diocese of Manchester's compliance with the terms of a child protection agreement it reached with the state.

The report noted failure by top Roman Catholic leaders to demonstrate a commitment to lasting policies to prevent the sexual abuse of minors.

While significant strides have been made to correct deficiencies identified in the first audit, this year's report singled out the Rev. Edward J. Arsenault — who is charged with implementing the agreement — for the lack of candor and resistance he showed auditors, the KPMG Inc. audit released yesterday said.

ARSENAULT

"There were instances when the auditors felt they were not receiving full cooperation in the interview they conducted with Fr. Arsenault and sometimes felt there were word games being played," said state Attorney General Kelly A. Ayotte.

Ayotte said the audit's most "troubling" finding is the "tone at the top" set by senior diocesan leaders who failed to promote an "organizational culture that encourages compliance."

"We're grateful that the AG recognizes that the problems in the Manchester Diocese start at the top," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "The mere existence of policies and procedures on paper don't protect kids."

Arsenault insisted he answered "every question with great candor and honesty," saying the auditor walked out after 15 minutes when he refused to respond to hypothetical questions or take questions from more than one person.

"I don't think I'm reticent, nor do I play word games," Arsenault said.

Annual audits are mandated under the terms of an agreement the diocese reached with the state on Dec. 10, 2002 to avoid criminal prosecution for its handling of alleged child sexual abuse by priests over a 40-year period.

During the latest audit period, which began in August, prosecutors said the diocese reported to them a number of child sexual abuse allegations against priests. Most involved priests who had prior complaints against them and already were removed from ministry or some who are dead, Senior Assistant Attorney General N. William Delker said.

At least one allegation is actively being investigated and is recent enough that — if founded — could be prosecuted since the statute of limitations has not expired, Delker said. The complaint involves an unidentified priest who was not in active ministry at the time of the alleged abuse, he said.

"The diocese has been very prompt in making those allegations. It's our feeling that they have been doing that right," Delker continued.

Whether the full round of four audits will be done was a key point of contention between the state and diocese — one that could bring both sides back into court.

Ayotte said she is committed to two more audits, which so far have taken nine to 10 months to do.

But Arsenault said the diocese only agreed to submit to audits through the end of the year.

"I see no reason why there can't be an audit that starts now and one again in December," Arsenault said, adding the audits have not been "time efficient."

Audits were stalled when the church and state argued over their scope and cost. A 2005 court ruling upheld the state's argument that it could measure the effectiveness of the church's policies and both sides would split the cost, which this year was $96,654.

"Because we spent two years litigating prior to the initiation of the first audit ... we should have the full time to make sure we have the ability to have a full review," Ayotte said.

If the diocese resists, Ayotte said "Absolutely, if necessary, I will take that to court."

KPMG Inc., an international auditing firm, also faulted the diocese's policy because it does not require a cleric, employee or volunteer accused of abuse to automatically be removed from their post pending an investigation,.

The diocese's policy, updated this year, says an alleged abuser can only be removed from his or her post if the bishop finds there is a "semblance of truth" to the allegation, Ayotte said.

"This initial subjective evaluation of the complaint is inconsistent with the language of the 2002 agreement," Ayotte said. She called upon the diocese to immediately change its policy to ensure an alleged abuser can have no contact with minors while the investigation is pending, adding she would ask the court to enforce this provision if necessary.

Arsenault, who is the diocese's delegate for ministerial conduct, said the two documents don't conflict.

"When we receive a report, it has to have some standard of reasonableness. We have received some reports from people that are spurious. They have no factual basis," Arsenault continued, saying some people who made complaints later were found to be "disturbed."

Auditors also found the diocese still relies too heavily on "self-reporting" by parishes, schools and camps to ensure staff and volunteers have undergone required child safety training and background checks.

Like last year, Bishop John B. McCormack was absent when church leaders responded to the audit report.

 
 

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