Investigator: NY Archdiocese meeting obligations in sex abuse crisis

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The findings of an independent investigation into the sex abuse crisis within the Catholic Church was released on Monday.

Retired federal judge and prosecutor Barbara Jones was asked to lead the investigation, and she praised the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York for its response, saying no priest or deacon remains in ministry in the Manhattan-based archdiocese who has been credibly abused of sexual abuse.

"Overall, I have found that the Archdiocese has complied with the Charter in all material respects," she said. "It has faithfully followed its policies and procedures and responded appropriately to abuse complaints, and is committed to supporting victims-survivors of abuse."

Jones said she received "complete access" to archdiocese records during her yearlong review, in which she examined some 2,000 personnel files and conducted dozens of interviews. Church officials are adhering to strict protocols when they receive allegations of abuse involving members of the clergy, she said.

"I watched in admiration as Judge Jones and her excellent staff have been indefatigable," Cardinal Timothy Dolan said.

Jones said she found that every claim was investigated and that no priest with a substantiated claim remained in the ministry.

"The Archdiocese follows strict protocols any time that it receives an allegation that a cleric has sexually abused a minor," she said. "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 Dolan accepts the Board's recommendation and has never returned a cleric to ministry against whom there has been a substantiated complaint."

There are a few areas where Jones found the need for improvement. They include, as written by Jones:

--I have 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. I have recommended annual training, particularly in Archdiocesan schools.

--The Archdiocese's relationship with the ten 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, I have 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.

--I have recommended that 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.

--I have recommended that the Archdiocese continue to advertise the IRCP and accept new claims.

--I have recommended that 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.

--I have recommended technological enhancements in three areas:

(1) I have recommended an electronic case management system to track every sexual abuse complaint that the Archdiocese receives, from first report through final resolution. Such a system has been implemented for several months now, and it is working well. It provides instant notification to all necessary personnel, stores relevant documents, and includes reminders to ensure that protocols are being followed.

(2) I have recommended an electronic document management system for the Office of Priest Personnel. Once implemented, all priest personnel files would be digitized, and the system would be searchable and capable of running necessary reports. My recommendation was directed at the Office of Priest Personnel, but the Archdiocese has gone further: It has purchased a system for the entire chancery with implementation to begin in the Priest Personnel Office next month.

(3) I have recommended 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.

--I have 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.

Some victims of church abuse were skeptical about the process. Cardinal Dolan hoped that this investigation would help people feel more confident in the Catholic Church and Archdiocese of New York.

Jones says her work is not done. Later Monday, Eyewitness News got a response from a group that represents victim survivors. They pointed out that last year a church in Buffalo said they reviewed all their files, but it turned out that was not the case and more allegations surfaced. They said they truly hope Jones was able to see everything.

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