|Diocese of Trenton Takes Child Abuse Most Seriously
Times of Trenton
December 21, 2009
New Jersey -- The Times recently published "A case study in shame" (Dec. 7), a commentary piece by Peter Wise on the case of Jenni Franz and her accounts of abuse by her uncle, Father Ronald Becker.
Mr. Wise's comments reflect several serious inaccuracies and distortions, upon which he has built a condemnation of the Diocese of Trenton and its handling of the Franz case. Most egregiously, he contends that the Diocese of Trenton has not "learned from history" in regard to child sexual abuse. We welcome the opportunity to correct the record as reported by Mr. Wise and to give readers a fuller understanding of all that the church has done and continues to do in response to the scourge of child sexual abuse.
The fact is that the crisis of clergy sexual abuse against children has led the Catholic Church to adopt the most rigorous and comprehensive set of initiatives to protect children that have ever been developed by any organization in history. Regular audits commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and conducted in dioceses nationwide have found the Diocese of Trenton to consistently be in compliance with the stringent regulations and standards established in these initiatives.
Specifically, the diocese has conducted criminal background checks on tens of thousands of church staff and representatives who work with children. A similar number of individuals have been trained to ensure safe environments for children and to be vigilant for signs of abuse. We further provide ongoing training to more than 90,000 children in our Catholic schools and parish religious education programs each year, giving them the tools they need to stay safe. Because of these efforts, children are safer in every sector of their lives.
The diocese also issues regular appeals on its website, in parish bulletins and in our diocesan newspaper, The Monitor, for anyone who has ever been abused as a child by a representative of the church to come forward. Any allegation of abuse received by the diocese is treated with the utmost responsibility by diocesan response officers and our Review Board. All complaints are reported to law enforcement in keeping with a Memorandum of Understanding reached between the church and law-enforcement agencies throughout the state. The diocese has consistently provided its full support to all law-enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute complaints. All victims are further offered assistance and counseling in order to begin the healing process.
In the case of Jennifer Franz, the diocese's response has been responsible, pastoral and transparent. Contrary to Mr. Wise's account of the case, the diocese first learned of a concern about Father Becker in 1989 (not before that time, as Mr. Wise contends), when we were contacted by a local prosecutor's office in regard to its investigation of a complaint against Father Becker of inappropriate conduct with a minor. The investigating authorities did not find that case "prosecutable," but nevertheless, the diocese immediately removed Father Becker from ministry and sent him to a medical treatment facility in accordance with the best practices at the time. Upon his release from the treatment facility, the diocese assigned Father Becker to an administrative position in the Pastoral Center, where he would have no access to children and could be closely supervised.
The claim that the diocese withheld counseling services unless Ms. Franz agreed to waive legal action is simply unfounded. We are compelled by the U.S. Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People to offer counseling to victims unconditionally, and we do. It was in the mediation process with Ms. Franz that the diocese stipulated it would not pay additional funds beyond the $325,000 settlement for the specific need of counseling. It was our expectation that Ms. Franz would use her settlement to obtain the counseling she required.
The diocese's description of this as "a family matter" relates only to the circumstances of the case -- Father Becker had access to Ms. Franz because he was part of her family, not because he was a priest. To say it is a family matter does not reflect an unwillingness by the diocese to assist Ms. Franz -- as evidenced by the offer of counseling and the settlement -- nor does it represent a denial of the problem of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy.
We acknowledge that these are extremely important matters, and we invite readers to learn more about the church's comprehensive initiatives to protect children and ensure safe environments by going to dioceseoftrenton.org.
Rayanne Bennett is chief communications officer of the Diocese of Trenton.
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