Diocese still secretive about abuse

When, pursuant to court order, the Diocese of Bridgeport this month released some 12,000 pages of documents pertaining to the abuse of minors in the diocese, it also filed with Waterbury Superior Court a “Revised Privilege Log” identifying over 1,000 pages of documents it believes are still exempt from disclosure and the purported legal basis for its position.

If one reads the argument accompanying that log closely, it appears that the diocese believes that documents created as a result of counseling sessions between priests in which abuse is discussed are exempt from disclosure. The logical extension of this argument is that not only is the document protected, but also the communication itself. Thus the priest-recipient of such communication would not seem to be required, in the view of the diocese, to report the abuse or abuser to state authorities.

If this analysis of the diocese’s position is correct, its much heralded “Safe Environments Program” is nothing more than a hollow promise to parishioners. That program provides that anyone who has “actual knowledge of or [has] reasonable cause to suspect abuse or misconduct against a minor” is required to report such knowledge or suspicion to one of its Victim Assistance Coordinators or the Department of Children and Families Hotline, and in the case of a “mandated reporter,” to the police within 12 hours of becoming aware of an incident or concern.

Further, the Diocese argues that it, alone, is empowered to make decisions regarding the assignment of its priests, and that the civil authorities are precluded from inquiring into or obtaining documents relating to such decisions. Once again, the logical extension of this argument seems to be that the diocese believes that if it has obtained information regarding abuse by one of its priests only through counseling sessions or by other means that it views as constitutionally protected, it may reassign that priest to a position involving supervision of and/or contact with children, and that such decision and the documents on which it is based are not reviewable by the courts.

If such a position were taken by any other institution in society, it would be rejected on its face.

I believe that the laity of the diocese should demand that Bishop Lori clarify, in a transparent manner, the claims made on behalf of the diocese by its lawyers in this log and confirm that all clergy (outside the seal of confession) and employees of the diocese are in fact both required and encouraged to report either actual instances of abuse or suspicions that abuse may be occurring. We have seen too many instances in the past where priests ignored sleepovers at the rectory by young guests of their fellow priests, or other instances where the circumstances were such as to alert any reasonable person to the inherent dangers they posed.

The people of the diocese should also demand a clear statement from their bishop regarding the recent revelations regarding Monsignors Genuario and Wissel, of Greenwich. Rather than hide behind an elliptical statement issued by his long-time flack on his last day as an employee of the diocese, Bishop Lori should state directly whether the allegations involving these two priests were referred to the Diocesan Sexual Misconduct Review Board, how it investigated the complaints, who, if anybody, was called as a witness and the basis for its recommendations. Such apparently secret proceedings, if in fact they took place, fail any reasonable test of transparency.

Further, if a thorough investigation took place and the complaints were not found to be credible, the bishop should explain clearly why he authorized settlements that apparently cost the diocese $40,000, and why such settlements were not publicly disclosed. There should be no room in these matters for the doctrine of “mental reservation” so artfully employed by the Irish hierarchy in their dealings with their own abuse crisis.

If the bishop truly believes the positions asserted on his behalf in the log by his lawyers, he is sacrificing any claim he may have to moral leadership by an overly broad claim of privilege under the law. But that is perhaps the position we can expect from an organization that seems unwilling to deal with its members in an open, transparent and accountable manner as educated, adult members of the People of God.

Daniel B. Sullivan is co-chairman of the Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport.

6 Responses to “Diocese still secretive about abuse”

  1. fed up Says:

    I am so sick of all this nonsense…you’re beating a dead horse…the diocese has made many constructive changes over the past few years and has acted in good faith…I feel like you have blinders on…I was sympathetic to your points initially, but now I feel that you’re not really interested in acknowledging the progress that has been made, but rather you want to put the knife in and keep twisting it.

  2. JohnL Says:

    Dear Fed Up,
    You appear to be easily satisfied or sickened. Please tell me what these “constructive changes” are and indicate how they prove good faith. Let’s set aside feelings for the moment and deal with facts. I know about Safe Environment programs and the 90,000 exposed. What has that time and effort produced. I don’t know about the Diocesan Review Board. Who is on it? Why aren’t their activities carried on the Diocesan web site? How safe are the children of current neighbors of “priests” (without current ministry)for whom settlements have been paid, who have no knowledge of their behavior?
    You never mentioned the victim/survivors. Have you listened to one of these wounded tell their personal story? What was your impression? Has any Diocesan office reported on their efforts in healing the victims who have come forward? Why not?
    What is the “dead horse” you reference? Is it the Church as all of the people of God from which large numbers of baptized have defected in recent years because of their disappointmnet with ordained leadership? Is it diocesan leaders who have held responsible positions during the terms of Bishop(s) Curtis, Egan and Lori? Only one of these is dead. The more recent duo do not wish to engage in dialogue on this subject matter with lay persons who pay, pray and obey! Are you surprised to see fewer young families worshiping beside you? And as a financial supporter, do you sense that the funds spent on settlements, on legal, on lobbying, etc. are well spent in a true Christian sense?
    Dialogue is the way that adult Americans, Catholic or otherwise, attempt to resolve differences of opinion. I hope that you will respond with the specific changes you observe, the results of these actions with some metrics, and share one or more stories about victim/survivors who have acheived healing from Diocesan activity. Look for your timely response.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Bishop Lori’s response has been procedural rather than pastoral. While his well established “Safe Environments Program” may be part of the solution, one can hardly say that it even addresses the original problem. Instead, he has conveniently turned the problem back on the laity, telling us that now that he has trained us to recognize and report abuse the problem has been solved.

    In fact, over all the years parents and teachers WERE REPORTING abuse. However, under three successive bishops, reports of abuse were denied and the bishops chose to transfer the abusive priests from parish to parish, thus victimizing the survivors a second time. When it became impossible to deny the scope of the problem, the coverup and fight to keep records from being disclosed began. It was only when lawsuits were brought against the diocese that FINALLY some of the priests were laicized. We have no idea where they are or whether they are still receiving benefits or any other type of compensation, however. Nor do their unsuspecting neighbors know of their crimes.

    How many times do you think a public school principal would have been able to transfer a teacher who sexually abused students? In spite of commissions and advisors, it is the bishop who makes the final decision on all matters within his diocese. With total control comes total responsibility. Sadly, we have yet to hear “I’m sorry” from any one of the bishops involved.

    The cost to the survivors and their loved ones is impossible to calculate. What pastoral response has the bishop offered? He has denied repeated requests to offer an annual mass for their healing. Although counseling is available, is there even one survivor who has been counseled by a diocesan representative?

    The financial cost of settlements and legal fees to keep Catholics from knowing exactly who was responsible for these actions is also undetermined. We only know that as of 2003 the cost of settlements was $37,700,000. Several cases have been settled since then and others are going forward. We have absolutely no idea of the legal costs over 20+ years.

    It is widely acknowledged that this scandal is one of the worst chapters in the history of our church. Since the release of the documents on December 1, other disturbing information has been revealed. For many of us it’s impossible to move forward.

  4. m.byrne Says:

    When will it end? Transparency as espoused by Bishop Lori seems very conditional. The latest revelations of payment of $40,000.00 to persons who accuse two priests currently in active ministry are shocking. Msgr. Wissel denies the allegations. I would like to believe him. I am not aware of any other accused priest locally who spoke to the press to deny allegations. But that leaves Msgr Genuario. The published accusations against him are shocking. You can’t make that stuff up. And yet silence from the priest and the diocese.

    Now we hear about more records that the diocese wants protected. We are as sick as our secrets!!! Bishop Lori needs to understand what transparency means before he uses the word again in regard to this issue and his actions.

  5. Robert M. Kelly Says:

    for those following the arguments of the tin hat Catholic clergy who are insisting that the First Amendment protects their so-called “religious” decisions to employ or retain criminally negligent priests, and also insisting that state tort law must give way to these same “religious” decisions and that large damage award must be overturned, as if the Bishops were perched high above the law and accountable to no one, I highly recommend the research paper by Rev. John Coughlin, a member of the Notre Dame faculty.

    you’d better be sitting down.


  6. LIPPER Says:

    This fundamental lack of transparency continues to drive Catholics out of the church. The response of the Pope to the report of the abuse in Ireland confims that the institutional church is hypocritical and cannot be trusted.

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