Diocese of Syracuse and district attorneys sign memorandum of understanding

By Pat Shea
Associate editor

District attorneys representing Onondaga, Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Madison, Oneida and Oswego Counties joined Bishop Robert J. Cunningham at the George Harvey Justice Building in Binghamton Oct. 28 to announce their signing of a memorandum of understanding regarding protocol for the reporting of sexual misconduct and abuse of minors by members of clergy and religious.

The memorandum, which was created over the past year in a joint effort between the diocese and the district attorneys, formalizes the procedures to be followed in all incidents involving alleged sexual misconduct and abuse of minors by all members of the clergy and religious in the Diocese of Syracuse, and builds on a verbal agreement that has been in place for approximately 12 years.

“Today is a good news story,” stated Bishop Cunningham. “In light of a few changes in our elected officials across the counties and in a need to review and improve our procedures, we agreed that it would be good to modify our agreement and put it in writing…. This is truly in a spirit of cooperation and guided by one principle: to deal with this issue effectively and justly and most importantly, to make every effort to ensure that no child is harmed.”

The introduction of the memorandum states the document is a “working agreement between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse and the elected District Attorneys of the seven (7) counties within the geographical jurisdiction of the Syracuse Diocese. The purpose of this document is to create and implement a consistent policy and reporting protocol with regard to sexual misconduct and abuse of minors by all members of the clergy and religious under the auspices of the Syracuse Diocese.”

There are five areas of terms and conditions of understanding in the memorandum. Part A states, “Whenever a complaint is received by a Diocesan official that a member of the clergy or religious, who is under the auspices of the diocese, has sexually abused a minor, regardless of the age of the incident, the complainant will be strongly urged to report the complaint immediately and directly to the appropriate District Attorney’s Office.”

In Part B, the document states, “When a Diocesan official has learned or has reason to suspect that a member of the clergy or religious, who is under the auspices of the diocese, has sexually abused a minor, the Diocese will immediately refer the matter to the appropriate District Attorney’s Office for investigation, regardless of the age of the allegation or whether or not the clergy member or religious is active.”

During the conference, Bishop Cunningham stated, “I acknowledge that the Church and frankly society has not handled situations of child abuse well in the past. We are a human Church and a human society who make mistakes and it pains me to know that mistakes have caused harm to people. Thankfully, there has been much improvement. We are proud of the ongoing education and prevention efforts in maintaining safe environments in the Diocese of Syracuse. Since 2003, over 35,000 individuals [in the diocese], including clergy, religious, employees and all volunteers who work with young people, have been educated and trained in child abuse prevention and have completed criminal background checks. Today is a great step forward to further our collective efforts to eradicate this issue and to keep our children safe.”

Each of the district attorneys from the seven counties signed the memorandum, in addition to Bishop Cunningham.

“We appreciate the efforts of Bishop Cunningham to formalize in this memorandum of understanding the policy and protocol for reporting these incidents to police and prosecutors for investigation from the first day a report is received by Diocesan officials,” stated the Honorable Gerald Mollen, District Attorney for Broome County. “We all expect this step to improve the confidence of the community in the outcome of these investigations.”


 

Memorandum of understanding between the district attorney and the Diocese of Syracuse relating to the reporting of sexual misconduct of minors by clergy and religious

I. Introduction

This Memorandum of Understanding is a working agreement between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse and the elected District Attorneys of the seven (7) counties within the geographical jurisdiction of the Syracuse Diocese. The purpose of this document is to create and implement a consistent policy and reporting protocol with regard to sexual misconduct and abuse of minors by all members of the clergy and religious under the auspices of the Syracuse Diocese. The undersigned, hereby understand and agree to all terms and conditions contained in this document.

II. Terms and Conditions of Understanding

A. Sexual abuse of a minor is a crime. The age of consent in the State of New York is 17 years of age. Minors under the age of 17 cannot give consent. Whenever a complaint is received by a Diocesan official that a member of the clergy or religious, who is under the auspices of the diocese, has sexually abused a minor, regardless of the age of the incident, the complainant will be strongly urged to report the complaint immediately and directly to the appropriate District Attorney’s Office.

B. When a Diocesan official has learned or has reason to suspect that a member of the clergy or religious, who is under the auspices of the diocese, has sexually abused a minor, the Diocese will immediately refer the matter to the appropriate District Attorney’s Office for investigation, regardless of the age of the allegation or whether or not the clergy member or religious is active.

C. If the Diocese has reason to suspect that a member of the clergy or religious, who is under the auspices of the diocese, has sexually abused a minor, it will make efforts to preserve any evidence of the incident and will coordinate with the District Attorney’s Office with respect to the preservation and collection of that evidence.

D. The Diocese shall not do its own independent investigation of a complaint prior to reporting it to the District Attorney’s office, other than a preliminary inquiry to establish that there is an allegation that consists of conduct that rises to a sexual offense. If there is a question as to the criminality, the Diocese shall consult with the appropriate District Attorney’s Office.

E. The Diocese, after notifying that District Attorney’s Office, will take appropriate action with regard to that member of the clergy or religious, as warranted, including removing the individual from his or her assignment, to ensure the safety of minors. However, once the District Attorney’s Office has been notified, the diocese should coordinate with the District Attorney to ensure that any criminal investigation is not compromised. To that end, the District Attorney’s Office must also recognize the obligation of the diocese to take appropriate action with regard to a member of the clergy or religious, who is under the auspices of the diocese, accused of abuse, within certain time constraints prescribed by the norms of the universal Church.

A copy of the signed memorandum is available here.

Watch Syracuse Catholic Television’s video of the press conference below.

 

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