No archdiocesan priest or deacon, with a substantiated allegation of abuse of a minor, remains in ministry today in the Archdiocese of New York.
Barbara S. Jones, independent reviewer and special counsel for the archdiocese, provided that assurance at a morning press conference with Cardinal Dolan at the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan Sept. 30.
Ms. Jones’ report comes a year after the retired federal judge was appointed by Cardinal Dolan to study how the archdiocese deals with any accusation about an alleged abuse of a young person. Her job has been to help enhance and strengthen the archdiocese’s protocols for accusations of inappropriate behavior by anyone abusing his or her position of authority.
“The real focus here was on the safety of children in the archdiocese today—prevention,” Ms. Jones said.
“Among the first tasks that I chose to do was to just get to it and review the personnel files for every priest and deacon in active service in this archdiocese,” she said.
She said the “very long and lengthy” review included “easily a couple of thousand” personnel files.
From the review, Ms. Jones said she discovered that the archdiocesan Office of Priest Personnel, where the files are housed, “while it functions well, would benefit greatly from less reliance on paper and the ability to rely on enhanced technology.”
In that regard, Ms. Jones has recommended a new document management system “to assist in the crucial work of the Office of Priest Personnel.” That, she said, is “essential if this office is going to continue to work quickly and efficiently.”
The archdiocese’s chancery has already signed a contract for a new document management system, for the entire archdiocese, “although that will be the first office where the module is implemented,” Ms. Jones said.
“I think this will be a tremendous help in terms of reviewing future compliance.”
Ms. Jones said she then reviewed all of “the norms, the laws, the requirements of the Dallas Charter,” referring to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People implemented by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 and revised three times since then. “It has a detailed process for how a diocese has to handle a complaint of sexual abuse of a minor today.”
The archdiocese, Ms. Jones said, “is following the mandates of the Dallas Charter, and in some instances have gone beyond its requirements.”
For the past year, every step of the way, she said, “I have found the archdiocese, and its leadership, to be cooperative, very willing to accept my recommendations. I am encouraged by what I have seen and I have confidence that the archdiocese will continue in the commitment that it has, and has demonstrated thus far, to the safety of children.”
Cardinal Dolan, in response to a question by a reporter about his reaction to the findings, said he was “very grateful and very relieved.”
He said he had told Ms. Jones and her team “not to leave a paper unread.”
“I’m trying my best to serve my people,” the cardinal said. “I love them, and my main job is to serve them as their pastor.”
He said “it stung deeply” last year when he heard from some people that they were having trouble trusting the Church’s bishops. “And I just thought, how can I restore their confidence?” He then thanked Ms. Jones. “What you have said and what you intend to share with the people as well has gone a long way to do that. I hope so.”
In her overview, she described the caseload of the archdiocese. “From the outset, it’s very important to note that almost all of the complaints received over the last several years are not complaints of current conduct, but rather they are complaints about conduct which occurred in sometimes decades earlier.
“Most of these complaints also involve priests who are deceased,” she added.
In the archdiocese, there have only been two substantiated complaints of sexual abuse of a minor by archdiocesan priests where the abuse occurred after 2002.
Ms. Jones, who is a partner at the international law firm Bracewell, attested that the archdiocese “follows strict protocols in every one of the cases that comes to it, every time it receives an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor, no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred.”
The Archdiocese of New York has paid more than $67 million to 338 victim-survivors of clergy abuse through the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) since the fund was established three years ago.
Ms. Jones said she has recommended that the archdiocese continue to accept new claims through the IRCP “but frankly they have been doing that and they didn’t need that recommendation. Those claims are still being accepted.”
She has also recommended that the archdiocese hire a person whose sole responsibility is to oversee its response to sexual abuse complaints. “I’m looking to the future,” Ms. Jones explained. “The two persons responsible for running this program have been doing it for 15 years. Each of them has significant responsibilities in the General Counsel’s office and in Safe Environment.” She was referring to Edward Mechmann, an attorney with the archdiocese who is also director of the Safe Environment Office and director of Public Policy for the archdiocese, and James McCabe, the archdiocese’s general counsel.
A summary of Ms. Jones’ findings and recommendations may be found at https://archny.org/judgejones.