August 1, 2002

A Policy in a Time of Crisis

Over the past several months, a large number of Catholics and non-Catholics alike have written to me concerned about misinformation that is abroad regarding the policy of the Archdiocese of New York in the matter of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. For this reason, I thought it well to set aside the article I had prepared for Catholic New York this month so as to explain in clearest terms how all cases of sexual misconduct by clergy are to be treated here in our beloved archdiocese.

Misconduct with Minors

First, I repeat here what has been stated, over the past year, several times on radio and television and in newspaper releases:

A. Sexual abuse of a minor is a crime. Whenever a complaint is received by an archdiocesan official that a priest has sexually abused a minor, the complainant will be strongly urged to report the complaint immediately and directly to the appropriate district attorney’s office.

B. When an archdiocesan official has reason to suspect that a priest has sexually abused a minor, the archdiocese will immediately refer the matter to the appropriate district attorney’s office for investigation.

C. The archdiocese, after consultation with the appropriate district attorney’s office, will take appropriate action concerning the priest, as warranted, including removing him from his assignment until the matter is clarified, in order to ensure the safety of minors.

The names of less than 30 clergymen or former clergymen of the Archdiocese of New York accused of sexual misconduct with minors over a period of 40 years have been submitted to the district attorneys in the boroughs and counties which the Archdiocese of New York serves. None of the cases of these clergymen have been returned to the archdiocese with a declaration from the district attorney that the investigation of them has been completed. Unfortunately, it has been mistakenly thought by various individuals in a number of parishes that one or another of these cases has been declared completed by the district attorney and the archdiocese has failed to take the next step in dealing with the matter. This is false, and the resulting damage to the good name of innocent persons in the administration of the archdiocese is most unfortunate.

When the district attorneys have completed their investigations, it will be my duty as archbishop to decide whether the clergymen in question will be allowed to return to active ministry. A board of clergy, religious and predominantly laity who have particular expertise in the fields of psychology, law and administration is in place to study the cases in detail and provide me with carefully considered recommendations.

The board will have available to it all of the relevant information the archdiocese has in its files regarding the clergymen in question and any information shared with the archdiocese by the district attorneys. During the period after our having sent the above-mentioned cases to the district attorneys and while we are awaiting decisions from them, much misinformation has been spread about regarding several of the cases under investigation. For example, clergymen who have been accused of numerous offenses have been said to have been accused of only one, and clergymen who have been accused of offenses both years ago and recently have been said to have been accused of offenses only years ago.

The result of such false reports has been numerous letters and statements by relatives, friends, supporters, and parishioners of the clergymen in question, which are often both emotional and damaging to the Church. Because of the obligation to say or do nothing that might interfere with investigations of the district attorneys, the archdiocese has had to quietly and patiently put up with the damage that is being done. When the aforementioned review board has completed its work, silence will no longer be required; and in the interest of the good name of the Church here in New York, the pertinent facts of those cases that result in the definitive removal of clergymen from ministry will be made public.

In addition to this policy, which the charter and norms recently developed by the U.S. Bishops in Dallas, Texas, largely reflect, the archdiocese will ask all priests who are to be removed definitively from ministry to seek what is called "laicization," that is, a dispensation of the Holy See from the obligation of priestly celibacy and daily recitation of the Breviary, so as to begin new lives unencumbered by commitments made at ordination.

In the present law of the Church, except when there is an elaborate ecclesiastical trial, laicization is granted only after the clergyman requests it of his own free will. Some may unfortunately refuse to make the request.

Misconduct With Other Than a Minor

When a priest is accused of sexual misconduct with other than a minor, the matter is handled by the archbishop and his counselors. When, however, a bishop is accused of sexual misconduct with other than a minor, the matter is handled exclusively by the Holy See. A representative of the Vatican interviews the bishop in question and informs him of whatever directives have been decided upon by the Holy Father.

In the case of an auxiliary bishop, his "Ordinary," such as the Archbishop of New York, is merely informed of the Holy Father’s actions and directives. The Ordinary’s counsel is not sought, and he does not participate in any of the discussions between the auxiliary bishop and the representative of the Vatican. When an auxiliary bishop attempts to make it seem that the Ordinary is responsible for the decisions of the Holy See, the Ordinary is able to do nothing more than announce the truth and trust the faithful will not be misled.

The Church has been suffering greatly over recent years because of sexual misconduct on the part of a small number of bishops and priests. Happily, the faithful know that the vast majority of our clergymen are good, holy, dedicated servants of their people who have been deeply hurt because of the misconduct of a few. Our Catholics are proud of their priests, just as I am proud to be numbered among the dedicated men of God who serve the faithful of the Archdiocese of New York with self-sacrifice and devotion. Together–bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity–we will deal openly and courageously with the crisis of sexual misconduct, totally dedicated especially to the protection of our children and young people and confident that the Eternal High Priest is with us at every step along the way.

Edward Cardinal Egan

Archbishop of New York