Church says it learned its lesson

By David Tirrell-Wysocki
Manchester (NH) Union Leader
March 4, 2003

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Concord -- The Diocese of Manchester says it has learned a big lesson about how to handle predator priests: supervision or monitoring is not enough.

The revelation, along with other lessons learned, is in a church report released yesterday to accompany a comprehensive state report on how the church responded to sexual abuse allegations over six decades.

"Essentially, the diocese learned that a person who has sexually abused a minor cannot be adequately supervised or monitored," said the 12-page church report, entitled "Restoring Trust: A report to the people of New Hampshire by the Diocese of Manchester."

The lesson, Bishop John B. McCormack wrote, is why the church now acts swiftly when it receives allegations.

"If there is even one credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest, the diocese will remove the priest from ministry, and if the accusation is determined to be true, that priest will not be allowed to serve in ministry again."

In the past, the report said, the church generally responded by placing a priest on leave or removing him from a parish, referring him for psychiatric evaluation and treatment, or meeting with him to "urge him to acknowledge his harmful behavior and exhort him to change his ways."

"These actions, especially simply exhorting a priest to 'change his ways,' are inadequate and ineffective ways to deal with abusive individuals," the report said.

McCormack again apologized for the abuse and the inadequate church response.

"The forthright acknowledgment of failures of the past empowers us to move forward toward a hopeful and brighter future," he wrote in a personal message accompanying the church document. "While no one can change the past, together we can all shape the future."

The church, he said, learned of some abuse allegations outlined in the state report only after the attorney general began investigating last year.

"In many instances, the priests in these interviews provided (the attorney general) information that the priests had not provided directly to the diocese before the investigation," the report said.

The investigation prompted an agreement late last year in which the church acknowledged it probably would have been convicted of violating state child protection laws. The agreement included the release of the state investigative files and analysis of the legal case against the church.

"The diocese does not necessarily agree with all aspects of this analysis, which, in many ways, contains novel theories and approaches for New Hampshire prosecutions," the church report said.
The church said it could have challenged some of the theories and "inferences drawn from certain alleged facts," but concluded that even winning the challenges "would not diminish the significant and serious harm suffered by minors resulting from the actions of some priests."

The church report outlines six lessons learned from the scandal. Essentially they involve giving accusers more attention, calling the police after getting complaints, keeping better records and helping build awareness to prevent future abuse.

The Diocese made no excuses for its failures, but said the investigative file shows it was not alone in misunderstanding the lasting effects of abuse or how to best address allegations.

"Law enforcement agencies, mental health and psychological experts, as well as legislators today have a vastly improved understanding of the problem and how to address it than they did even 20 years ago," the report said.

McCormack said he and the church are concerned the release of details of abuse and the church response will be painful for victims, the faithful and the state.

Catholics who need to talk about their reactions can contact the church, and anyone who suspects a child has been abused or neglected should contact authorities, he said.



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