SNAP Reacts to Deal between MA Diocese & Local District Attorneys

We hope that an agreement between a Catholic diocese and law enforcement professionals in Western Massachusetts will set a nationwide precedent for how church leaders handle sexual abuse reporting going forward. The pact that requires the diocese to report first to law enforcement and initially refrain from internal investigation is the best way to protect children and stop sexual abuse, We urge other district attorneys around the country to broker similar deals with local church officials within their jurisdictions.

According to reports, District Attorneys have entered into a memorandum of understanding with Catholic officials from the Diocese of Springfield, MA, in which church officials are required to turn over any and all allegations of abuse to the appropriate district attorney’s office, while also agreeing to suspend internal investigations until an outside, secular one has been completed. This deal was originally reached because local prosecutors determined that church leaders were failing to report all cases of abuse, something that has been demonstrated to be a national trend based on independent reports from attorneys general in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Missouri.

We believe that this kind of deal should be the norm. Catholic officials have for years pledged to be open and honest in cases of clergy sexual abuse, so agreeing to turn over allegations of crimes to the experts in law enforcement tasked with investigating them just seems like common sense to us. We urge district attorneys in every county to work with local church officials to broker similar agreements.

Creating pacts like this not only helps ensure that authorities are made aware of crimes, but also gives prosecutors more teeth when going after those who would put their institution’s reputation over the protection of children and the vulnerable. If change is going to happen, it will happen because institutions are forced by the law and criminal penalties to change. Giving prosecutors more power to prosecute those who defy mandatory reporting laws is an important step towards forcing this change, and we believe every district attorney in the US should have a similar deal in place.

Catholic bishops move around and when they go to a new assignment, they take with them certain institutional knowledge. Having an agreement in place would force a successor to respect the agreements of prior hierarchs, and would hold predecessor bishops accountable to the law, thereby eliminating the phenomena of “plausible deniability” we sometimes see when new bishops take over a diocese and throw up their hands or blame shift to prior leadership.

Church leaders consistently tout the promises of the Dallas Charter, adopted by bishop in 2002 as a bulwark against abuse, but recent investigations and cases of abuse prove that the promise of that Charter promise has been broken hundreds of times, each time endangering a child and enabling an abuser.

It is obvious that consistent, secular oversight of the Catholic Church is desperately needed. We applaud the district attorneys in western Massachusetts for working out this deal and hope that their example will be followed nationwide.

CONTACT: Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (zhiner@snapnetwork.org, 517-974-9009), Dan McNevin, SNAP Treasurer (dmcnevin@aol.com, 415-341-6417)


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