Employees, Other Groups Hear First-Hand About Child Safety Review
Barbara S. Jones, independent reviewer and special counsel for the archdiocese, addresses archdiocesan employees from the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan Oct. 1 at St. John the Evangelist Church. Seated behind her is Cardinal Dolan, who also spoke at the assembly.
By JOHN WOODS
At a workday assembly, archdiocesan employees at the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan heard a report on the archdiocese’s child safety practices and received an overview of how the archdiocese is meeting its obligations under New York’s recently enacted Child Victims Act.
The extraordinary morning meeting Oct. 1 in St. John the Evangelist Church included remarks by Cardinal Dolan and a meticulous step-by-step presentation by Barbara S. Jones, a former federal judge and prosecutor who detailed her yearlong review of how the archdiocese deals with accusations of abuse of young people, including recommendations for improvement.
Speaking directly to several hundred archdiocesan employees seated before him, the cardinal said, “You often bear the brunt of understandably angry people. You answer the phone…You share in the embarrassment and the sadness caused by the scandal.
“Yet you continue to work hard. You represent us well with grace and effectiveness. I’m very sorry you have to bear part of the burden of this scandal.”
The remarks by the cardinal and Ms. Jones were, in many cases, similar to those they made a day earlier, first at a morning press conference, also at the New York Catholic Center, and later in gatherings at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, with the clergy of the archdiocese and representatives of parishes, schools and donors.
One of the chief findings by Ms. Jones is that no priest currently serving in ministry in the archdiocese has an allegation of sexual abuse of minors against him. She and her team did a careful page-by-page review of the personnel records of every priest and deacon who currently serves in the archdiocese.
There have been only two substantiated allegations of abuse against priests in the archdiocese since 2002, the year the U.S. bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Ms. Jones said. The vast majority of such cases extend back decades.
Ms. Jones’ findings were generally complimentary of archdiocesan programs as well as personnel involved in child safety efforts. One recommendation for improvement extending to recordkeeping and communication in several areas was the need for “enhanced technology,” and Ms. Jones indicated that the archdiocese was taking steps to comprehensively address such shortcomings with a digital data management system.
She also reviewed the processes that the bishops’ charter prescribes to respond to allegations of abuse and then compared them to how its provisions have been implemented in the archdiocese, primarily by James McCabe, general counsel for the archdiocese, and Ed Mechmann, director of the Safe Environment Program.
In meetings with “virtually all” district attorneys across the archdiocese, Ms. Jones said she asked them if there was any dissatisfaction with the archdiocese’s work related to the handling of abuse allegations.
“There was none,” Ms. Jones said. “They had nothing but praise.”
Her report also covered the archdiocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), which she called “highly effective.” Victim-survivors have been awarded $67 million after their allegations of abuse were substantiated by an independent mediator.
She endorsed the archdiocese’s Safe Environment programs, which she said have been “run faithfully and well by Ed Mechmann for a very long time.”
Ms. Jones said, “Since the day I came in here, everyone has been extraordinarily pleasant and cooperative. I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen from all of you, and from the leadership of the archdiocese.
“I believe and am confident that the archdiocese will continue its commitment to the safety of children.”
Also speaking were William Whiston, the chief financial officer of the archdiocese; Msgr. Edmund Whalen, vicar for clergy; John Cahill, chief of staff to Cardinal Dolan; and attorney Peter Johnson.
Whiston reported that Cardinal Dolan had said “from the beginning” that any funds used to pay settlements to victim-survivors of clergy sexual abuse would not originate from the archdiocese’s parishes, a pledge that still holds. “Long-term” bank loans have been secured to cover costs associated with the IRCP and the Child Victims Act, Whiston said.
Msgr. Whalen, in a pastoral tone in keeping with the church setting, spoke personally to the archdiocesan employees before him. He called them the archdiocese’s “St. Thereses,” a timely tribute since Oct. 1 is the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, who became the patron saint of the missions even though she did not venture beyond her convent.
He thanked the employees “for being there for us,” whether their support came as they fielded phone calls from frustrated and angry callers, or at home where many have become the public face of the archdiocese on their block, their parish or “maybe even at family gatherings.”
“You share the pain of the victims,” Msgr. Whalen said. “You share the pain of those priests who’ve had to suffer because of the sins of other priests. You share the pain of priests…who’ve had to step aside.”