Archdiocese of New York follows through on sex abuse reporting protocols

New York. Archdiocese’s independent reviewer and special counselor releases findings on archdiocese’s support of victims-survivors of abuse.

02 Oct 2019 | 06:30

    The findings and recommendations of the Archdiocese of New York’s independent review of the archdiocese’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse has found that it followed its policies and procedures, responded appropriately to abuse complaints and is committed to supporting victims-survivors of abuse.

    Independent reviewer and special counsel Barbara Jones also found:

    The archdiocese follows strict protocols any time that it receives an allegation that a cleric has sexually abused a minor. The district attorney for the appropriate county is promptly notified of the allegation. When an allegation is made against a cleric in ministry, regardless of whether criminal charges are brought, the archdiocese initiates an independent investigation of the allegation. The results of that investigation are presented to a Lay Review Board, which decides whether the allegation is substantiated. If the allegation is substantiated, the Board recommends to the Cardinal that the cleric be permanently removed from ministry. Cardinal Timothy Dolan accepts the board’s recommendation and has never returned a cleric to ministry against whom there has been a substantiated complaint.

    Working with a team of lawyers, Jones reviewed the personnel files for every priest and deacon in the Archdiocese and confirmed that no archdiocesan priest or deacon against whom there is a substantiated complaint of abuse of a minor is in ministry today.

    The Archdiocese has taken meaningful steps to support victim-survivors of sexual abuse, Jones said. Victim-survivors can report abuse to the archdiocese through a victims assistance coordinator or online through the archdiocese website. The victims assistance coordinator is available to offer victims support, including counseling with a counselor of the victim’s choice. The Archdiocese pays for all counseling.

    In 2016, the archdiocese instituted the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), which was the first compensation fund of its kind in the nation for clergy abuse, according to Jones. The IRCP’s administrators – two nationally recognized experts – determine a claimant’s eligibility for, and award, appropriate compensation. To date, the archdiocese has always accepted the administrators’ determination. Participation in the IRCP is voluntary. Although the IRCP process is confidential, victim-survivors are always free to discuss their abuse or their experience with the IRCP. It has proven to be a highly effective program that provides expedited relief to victim-survivors without the need for costly litigation and the emotional distress that can result from that process.

    Jones said the archdiocese’s Office of Priest Personnel has protocols that require any priest from outside the archdiocese who wants to minister here – on a short-term or long-term basis – to provide a certification from his home diocese or religious order that he has never been credibly accused of sexual abuse. An archdiocesan priest must present a similar certification if he wishes to minister in another diocese. These protocols are sound but are hindered by a paper filing system that can be susceptible to mistakes. The office could perform its functions more effectively with better technology.

    Additionally, Jones said the archdiocese’s Safe Environment Office plays a role in ensuring that children are safe in Archdiocesan schools, parishes, and programs. The office circulates a code of conduct for any adult interacting with children in an archdiocese institution. It monitors more than 30,000 employees and volunteers and conducts criminal background checks and trainings before any employee or volunteer can begin working with children. The office could be improved with better technology. More cooperation from parishes and programs is also needed to maintain up-to-date information and track compliance.

    Jones recommended:

    The archdiocese hire a person whose sole responsibility is to oversee its response to sexual abuse complaints.

    Safe environment training is currently required once for anyone working with children and Jones recommended annual training, particularly in archdiocesan schools.

    The archdiocese’s relationship with the 10 New York-area district attorneys is governed by memoranda of understanding that include a protocol for reporting allegations of clerical sexual abuse of minors. After consulting with each of the district attorney’s offices, Jones recommended that the memoranda be updated to include a reporting protocol for allegations of sexual abuse of non-consenting adults, as well as for allegations of sexual abuse committed by employees and volunteers.

    Certain best practices be used in all independent investigations into sexual abuse allegations. These include enhanced investigative techniques to ensure the thoroughness of the process.

    The archdiocese continues to advertise the IRCP and accept new claims.

    New members, with additional areas of expertise, be added to the Lay Review Board. The board’s current members include judges, lawyers, parents, a priest, a psychiatrist and a religious sister.

    Jones recommended technological enhancements to create an electronic case management system to track every sexual abuse complaint that the archdiocese receives, from first report through final resolution; an electronic document management system for the Office of Priest Personnel; and an updated database for the Safe Environment Office, which would allow for easier data entry and compliance tracking to monitor any adults – lay or clergy – who come into contact with children.

    Jones also recommended that the Archdiocese hire a compliance officer for the Office of Priest Personnel to monitor its functions and oversee the new document management system.

    - Nancy Kriz