Anthony Borrelli, Diocese, DAs team up to hold priests accountable in sex abuse cases, Press Connects

Prosecutors from seven counties have joined the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse in an effort to root out sexual abuse by members of the clergy by improving how those allegations are reported and investigated.

The agreement puts on paper what has been in practice for 12 years, Broome County District Attorney Gerald Mollen said during a Wednesday news conference in his office. But now, he said, this designates the Diocese as a mandated reporter of any allegations regarding sexual abuse.

“The overall goal is that no child ever again would be abused by anyone, even in the clergy,” Mollen said. “It’s a combination of holding the offender accountable and giving closure to the victim.”

Bishop Robert Cunningham said this does not mean names of clergy members whom the Diocese found credible evidence of abuse would be disclosed, but that information is being shared with prosecutors.

​Allegations of sexual abuse by priests date back decades but exploded into a crisis for the church in the USA more than 10 years ago after media reports detailing a litany of abuses and coverups by American bishops.

Cunningham acknowledged the church has not always done a good job handling abuse allegations in the past, but described this agreement as a means to help change that perception.

“It’s no secret that people are unhappy with the Diocese,” Cunningham said. “A priest or any other adult who abuses a child is wrong.”

According to the agreement, the Diocese will immediately contact a county district attorney’s office when a Diocesan official has learned or has reason to suspect a member of the clergy or person under the auspices of the Diocese has sexually abused a minor.

The agreement also prohibits the Diocese from conducting an independent investigation prior to reporting it to law enforcement, beyond conducting a preliminary inquiry to determine whether the allegation is a possible sex crime. If there is a question about the allegation being a criminal matter, the Diocese will be required to consult with a district attorney.
Among the seven prosecutors to sign the agreement is Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, who said Wednesday this is a “huge step forward” in shedding light on these types of allegations.

This protocol will be carried out regardless of how old the allegations are, or whether the suspected perpetrator is active in the Diocese, the document states.

“The age of the allegation is irrelevant,” Fitzpatrick said. “If it’s beyond the statute of limitations, the matter will still be referred to the district attorney’s office.”

Once the Diocese reports the allegation, they will be required to coordinate with the prosecutors to ensure any criminal investigation is not compromised, the agreement states.

In addition to Cunningham, Mollen and Fitzpatrick, the agreement was also signed by Madison County District Attorney William Gabor, Chenango County District Attorney Joseph McBride, Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara, Oswego County District Attorney Gregory Oakes and Cortland County District Attorney Mark Suben.

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