Bishop Accountability


Accused Priests: 35 (of whom 23 had "credible accusations of sexual abuse of minors made against them"; Grossman/AP use this lower number)
Total Priests: "Almost" 780
Persons Making Complaints: 56 (of whom 37 were minors at the time of the alleged abuse; Grossman/AP use this lower number)
Cost: $1,492,540 (of which $209,000 in settlements to victims, and $1,492,540 in counseling for victims and treatment programs for clergy)

See Cathy Lynn Grossman, Survey: More Clergy Abuse Cases Than Previously Thought (2/10/04) with AP table of data for 74 dioceses.

Letter from Robert L. Lawler, Diocesan Administrator

January 4, 2004

Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Lord:

For the past couple of years, the problem of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy has been a topic of much discussion. While the Church has addressed this issue and established preventative measures in the past, we are still learning how to most effectively assist the victims of this abuse as well as prevent future incidents of sexual abuse. This has been distressing and a source of pain for all the faithful, including our priests, but it is only by facing the problem honestly and openly that we are able to bring healing to all involved.

As Bishop Barbarito did in the past, I sincerely apologize to anyone who has suffered sexual abuse from our clergy, and to their families who have carried this burden with them. Nothing I say can change the past, but I want you to know that the Diocese of Ogdensburg remains most willing to assist victims in any way.

The statistics that accompany this letter have been reported to researchers at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York City, who will be releasing a combined report encompassing all the dioceses in the United States. This report will be issued in late February and the total number of victims, alleged abusers, and amounts of money spent to date for settlements and therapy throughout our country will be a further source of pain for the faithful. It is appropriate to note that the Catholic Church is the only institution, to my knowledge, to conduct such a study and release its findings. Considering that clergy abuse of minors is only the tip of the iceberg for society as a whole, it serves to highlight the social problem facing us as a nation and calls us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our young people.

Like every other diocese in the country, we have examined the records of complaints made in the Diocese of Ogdensburg from 1950 to today.

There have been fifty-six individuals, thirty-seven of whom were minors at the time of the abuse, who made complaints of sexual abuse against thirty-five clergy in the last fifty-three years. Twenty-three of the accused priests had credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors made against them. This is about 2.9% of the almost 780 clergy who have served here during those years.

Like many other dioceses, we find that while most of the abuse allegations report activity from years ago, it is in recent years that individuals have contacted the Bishop to notify him. The accompanying charts show the comparison between alleged incidents and subsequent notification of diocesan officials.

Part of the diocesan response to the issue of sexual abuse of minors is to assure the faithful that none of these priests remain in active ministry. As a result of the US Bishops’ 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, eight priests were removed from active ministry and placed on Administrative Leave. The Charter provides that no priest who is on Administrative Leave may present himself or function publicly as a priest in any way; in addition, he is not to wear clerical attire. Another five priests had previously retired; three had died; four had left ministry in prior years; and three had transferred to other dioceses, but are no longer in ministry.

To date, the Diocese of Ogdensburg has paid $209,000 in settlements to victims of clergy sexual abuse. Other costs (i.e., counseling for victims, treatment programs for clergy, etc.) have come to $1,492,540.22. This money has come from the insurance fund of the Diocese, from a Special Care Fund, and from priests’ bequests to the Diocese.

At no time, have any gifts designated for the annual Bishop’s Fund or any other specified collections been used for these purposes.

An independent review, commissioned by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and conducted by the Gavin Group, reports that the Diocese of Ogdensburg is in full compliance with the provisions of the Charter. Among the provisions, I highlight the following:

No priest or deacon is permitted to remain in active ministry if the Diocese has found reasonable cause to believe that he sexually abused a minor at any time.

A Sexual Abuse Lay Review Board was established and has reviewed individual cases of sexual abuse and recommended a proper course of action for the Bishop/Administrator to take.

A Victims Assistance Coordinator has been appointed, who serves as an advocate for victims within the Diocese. The Coordinator is to ensure that the Diocese provides the assistance needed to victims. Our Coordinator is Terrianne Yanulavich, who may be contacted at: 518-483-1460.

We have instituted the "Protecting God’s Children" program, in which every priest and Church employee/volunteer who works with children must participate. This includes criminal background checks for all current and future employees or volunteers who work with minors.

Diocesan policies may be found on the website for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg:

For the complete text of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, see:

Members of my staff have met with the District Attorneys of the Diocese or their representatives to review the Charter, to discuss the issue of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, and to assure them of our full cooperation should there be complaints of this nature in the future.

With you, I am grateful to the overwhelming number of our priests who have served and continue to serve so faithfully. They are truly committed to providing the best spiritual leadership possible, even in this age of fewer priests and greatly increased responsibilities. Please keep them in your prayers and encourage them in their ministry.

Again, I cannot express enough my sorrow that even one child was subjected to sexual abuse by a member of the clergy. It simply should never happen, and is a grave violation of the sacred trust placed in us by the Lord and by the faithful. Our sworn duty now is to promote healing and to do everything in our power to see that such incidents do not become a part of our future.

Asking God's blessings upon you, I remain

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Msgr. Robert L. Lawler, Diocesan Administrator




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