Thursday, March 3, 2011

Protect children

http://www.nj.com/opinion/times/oped/index.ssf?/base/news-1/1299134710174241.xml&coll=5
Do more to protect children from sexual predators
Thursday, March 03, 2011
SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
In early 2002, during the height of the clergy sex abuse scandal unfolding in Boston and throughout the rest of the U.S., victims of abuse by the clergy in New Jersey were calling for investigations to reveal the extent of these crimes committed against children in our state. The attorney general's office drafted an agreement that was signed by all five New Jersey Catholic bishops, called the "Memorandum of Understanding."

There was a time when church officials lamented the fact that they were the only group expected to sign such an agreement. More recently, they tout the agreement as a sign of their positive actions to protect children.

So how does this agreement protect and keep safe New Jersey's children? It requires the church to make known to local prosecutors all allegations of child sexual abuse made against clergy of their diocese, regardless of the amount of evidence or even if the church found such cases to be unsubstantiated. It requires a liaison be put in place to act as a go-between between the Catholic dioceses and local law enforcement. In some cases, these liaisons are the diocesan spokespersons. It requires that church files on the accused be turned over to county prosecutors and be kept confidential, even from the victim! Additionally, it requires prosecutors to notify the liaison and the attorney general's office before launching a grand jury investigation. Finally, it states that the agreement cannot be amended after five years. So, who does this agreement really protect?

Evidently not the children of New Jersey. The District Attorney of Philadelphia recently charged a Philadelphia priest, Fr. Edward Avery, with sexually assaulting a minor boy ("Philadelphia Catholic official charged in scandal," Feb. 12). The grand jury report highlighted the fact that the priest owned a house at the Jersey Shore, where he allegedly abused other boys, as well. How does the memorandum apply to crimes committed by priests who are not affiliated with a New Jersey Catholic diocese? It doesn't.

Last week, we heard from three alleged victims of Fr. Terence O. McAlinden, a pastor from the Trenton diocese ("Former Diocese of Trenton pastor faces new allegations of sexual abuse of teen boys," Feb. 22). We first learned that one man, Chris Naples, claimed in 2007 that he had been abused by the pastor. Church officials removed the priest from ministry and told the alleged victim and the public that they knew of no other reports against the priest. We also heard from a second alleged victim of Fr. McAlinden, Patrick Newcombe, who stated that he had told the Trenton diocese church officials about the allegations more than 20 years ago and was awarded a settlement in 1992. He further stated, "They urged me not to go to the district attorney; they would handle this internally."

If we look at the time Chris Naples states he was abused, it appears he allegedly was being molested as church officials were working out a deal with Patrick Newcombe. If the church reported Fr. McAlinden to authorities at that time, is it not likely authorities would have launched an investigation and possibly uncovered and prevented the alleged abuse of Chris Naples?

If the diocese informed local prosecutors in 2002 of all allegations of sexual abuse made against clergy, as they agreed to do by the "Memorandum of Understanding" now in place, how was Fr. McAlinden allowed to remain in parish ministry until 2007? Did church officials of the Trenton diocese fail to report this allegation to proper authorities as per their agreement or did local authorities allow an alleged predator continued access to children in his parish?

If we are truly serious about protecting our children, the time for New Jersey law-enforcement officials to act is long overdue. The "Memorandum of Understanding" must be scrapped and New Jersey lawmakers must put in place laws that apply and hold accountable all institutions and people who will harm or conceal abuse of our children. Law-enforcement officials of this state should not be handcuffed by some "agreement" that gives New Jersey parents a false sense of security and acts to protect the institution it was created to monitor. It is clear the district attorney of Philadelphia "gets it" and is upholding the laws of Pennsylvania to ensure that the silence and secrecy about accusations of child sexual abuse by clergy stops now.

How many more children must be harmed before New Jersey officials take appropriate action, seek the whole truth and hold those who harbor child predators accountable?

Mark Crawford is director of New Jersey SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), founder of FixTheLaw.org and advisory board member of MaleSurvivor.org. A survivor of clergy abuse, he recently was featured in the documentary "Boys and Men Healing." Information about and text of the "Memorandum of Understanding can be found by going to rcan.org/charter/NJDIVCRIMJUSTICE.pdf.

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