Manchester Diocese Underwent Grand Jury Scrutiny in 2002

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Manchester Diocese Underwent Grand Jury Scrutiny in 2002

Still reeling from the release of Pennsylvania’s grand jury report of clergy sexual abuse of children and alleged cover up of these crimes by some Church leaders, many New Hampshire faithful ask if safeguards are in place here.

As public officials, and even Catholic laity, press their state attorneys general to use subpoena power to force dioceses to turn over personnel records on clerics alleged to have abused minors, some Catholics want to know if the Diocese of Manchester ever was investigated.

Moreover, with increasing calls for dioceses to report all allegations of child sexual abuse by Church personnel immediately to law enforcement, the faithful here wonder if the Catholic Church in New Hampshire follows this practice.

The answer to these questions is yes.

Our diocese, which encompasses the entire state, was among the first in the nation to undergo a grand jury investigation. To date, the only others are dioceses in New York and Massachusetts and all of Pennsylvania.

As scores of victims of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy came forward in Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 2002, then-New Hampshire Attorney General Philip McLaughlin launched a criminal probe of the Manchester diocese’s handling of priests accused of sexually abusing children. Prosecutors obtained more than 9,000 pages of diocesan personnel files through grand jury subpoena. They included records of nearly 50 priests who allegedly abused more than 100 children dating back to the 1960s.

Days before McLaughlin planned to go before the grand jury to seek criminal indictments against the diocese for child endangerment, the state reached an unprecedented agreement with Bishop John McCormack on Dec. 10, 2002. Under the terms of the settlement, the diocese acknowledged the state had evidence likely to sustain a conviction against it under the state’s child endangerment statute. It agreed to release the 9,000 pages of previously confidential church documents and submit to state audits to ensure compliance with the terms of the agreement.

The agreement also called for the diocese to reaffirm its commitment to the state’s comprehensive child abuse reporting law that requires everyone to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect to the state Division of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF). In addition, the diocese agreed to go beyond what state law requires and report to the Attorney General's office any suspected child abuse by a cleric, employee or volunteer, regardless of when it occurred. The diocese complies with this practice to this day.  

The 2002 agreement set the framework for the Manchester diocese’s child protection practices. In 2002, as the state’s criminal investigation was underway, the diocese created a Diocesan Review Board to advise the bishop on matters involving child sexual abuse and formed a task force to make recommendations for a new policy on sexual abuse of minors by church personnel. The updated Promise to Protect, Pledge to Heal: Policy for the Protection of Children and Young People, Policy and Procedures and Serving Christ, Serving Others Code of Ministerial Conduct went into effect in 2004. They were reviewed and updated in 2007, 2011 and 2015.

Beginning in 2004, all clergy, diocesan employees and volunteers who work with minors undergo background screening. The diocese hired two independent investigators to assist with these screenings and to investigate reported incidents of child sexual abuse and code of conduct violations.

Moreover, all pastors, principals and camp directors throughout the state have appointed safe environment coordinators to assist them in fully implementing the Policy for the Protection of Children. In 2006, a Safe Environment Compliance Officer was hired to meet with the estimated 126 coordinators to ensure they kept up with training and standards. To date, more than 37,000 adults have been trained to recognize and report suspected abuse and at least 12,000 children have participated in age-appropriate child safety programs each year. Additionally, the Office for Healing and Pastoral Care offers outreach, support, advocacy and resources to those who have been affected by child sexual abuse by ordained clergy or those who minister, work or volunteer for the Church. If you or a loved one experienced abuse by someone representing the Catholic Church, you are encouraged to contact the Office for Healing and Pastoral Care at 603-663-0125. 

Taking Child Safety Seriously

Any adult who knows of or suspects abuse or neglect of a minor must report it immediately to the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth & Families (DCYF) at 1-800-894-5533 or 603-271-6556.

In addition, any diocesan personnel who has reason to suspect that a child has been sexually abused by other Church personnel must personally report this to DCYF, local law enforcement and the diocese’s Delegate for Ministerial Conduct at 603-669-3100. If the alleged victim no longer is a minor, a personal report still must be made to the Delegate for Ministerial Conduct. The delegate will make the required report to the state Attorney General's office.

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