Diocese responds to Attorney General's inquiries

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PROVIDENCE – The Diocese of Providence has responded to two separate inquires made by Attorney General Patrick Lynch relative to properties offered for sale, and accusations, many false, made by a Massachusetts-based organization about the church's reporting methods relative to sexual abuse. Lawyers for the diocese promptly responded to the inquiries.

In a letter to Monsignor Paul Theroux, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, Lynch wrote: “As I am sure you are aware, as Attorney General I have certain oversight responsibility for charitable trusts and certain property given or bequeathed for specific charitable purpose.”

Lawyers responding on behalf of the diocese assured the Attorney General that a real estate attorney reviewed and approved the properties for sale without restrictions, in accordance with civil law. Each of the properties was purchased outright or donated without restrictions.

The Attorney General’s second letter references a press conference held by the Boston-based BishopAccountability.org in which the organization accused the diocese of misrepresenting the number of priests accused of sexual abuse. The different numbers appear in the 2004 study by the John Jay School of Criminal Justice and in documents filed in current litigation.

Lawyers responding on behalf of the diocese explained that differences in the reported numbers are a result of two different sets of criteria mandated by two different studies. The reporting requirements for the John Jay audit study, source of the February 2004 figures, are substantially different in terminology and scope from the reporting requirements imposed by Judge Netti C,Vogel in her discovery order, which was much broader and covered a different time frame.

For example, while the John Jay Study requires reporting plausible, credible allegations made until 2002, Judge Vogel’s discovery order required listing of "any notice of any allegation against any priest" of any sexual misconduct against a priest, living or deceased, regardless of whether such allegations were credible, or, on the other hand, vague, anonymous, withdrawn or ultimately found to be false. The judicial order also covered a different time frame extending to 2007, which included new allegations made since 2002. Hence a difference in reporting criteria and methodology necessarily resulted in the difference in numbers reported.

In the second letter the Attorney General wrote: “It is vitally important that the discrepancies between various reports regarding the scope past allegations of sexual abuse be resolved immediately. It should go without saying that Rhode Island law regarding the reporting of sexual abuse must be complied with.” Lawyers for the diocese responded, “the scope of the protocols we developed expands significantly beyond the mandatory reporting requirements imposed by the Rhode Island General Laws.”

Prior to receiving the second letter, lawyers for the diocese contacted U.S. Attorney Robert Corrente and the Deputy Attorney General to clarify the differences in the reporting methods and to reassure the attorney general's office of the strict child protection policy implemented by the diocese 15 years ago.

“We have in place an effective program to combat abuse through the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," said Bishop Thomas J. Tobin. “We will continue to work with law enforcement and when appropriate, the attorney general’s office to investigate any and all allegations of abuse.

“I have also offered to personally meet with the Attorney General to further discuss these and any other issues that may be of concern to him," added the bishop.

The Most Rev. Louis E. Gelineau, Bishop emeritus of Providence, in

1993 established one of the earliest, strongest and most nationally recognized anti-abuse programs in the United States. The policy fully complies with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, issued in 2002. As a component of this, the Bishop of Providence routinely furnishes audit reports to ensure compliance with the charter. Additionally, assistance is provided to cover the cost of therapy for those who report allegations.

“All allegations are fully investigated by law enforcement with the full cooperation of diocesan officials, led by a former Massachusetts State Police detective," added Bishop Tobin.