Attorney General James Announces Agreement with Brooklyn Catholic Diocese for Mishandling of Clergy Sexual Abuse Cases

Attorney General James Announces Agreement with Brooklyn Catholic Diocese for Mishandling of Clergy Sexual Abuse Cases

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NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced an agreement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn (the Diocese) to address its years of mismanaging clergy sexual abuse cases and for failing to uphold the policies and procedures it adopted for investigating and responding to abuse complaints. Instead, the Diocese applied inconsistent standards to evaluate the credibility of an abuse allegation, delayed investigations, and failed to adequately monitor priests who were accused of sexual abuse.

The agreement requires the Diocese to take significant action to prevent and address allegations of clergy sexual abuse and reform past policies, including:

  • Installing an independent, secular monitor who will oversee the Diocese’s compliance with enhanced policies and procedures and issue an annual report on the Diocese’s handling of sexual abuse cases;
  • Strengthening existing policies and procedures for handling sexual abuse cases to include expedited review timelines and transparency throughout the process;
  • Creating new offices, committees, and positions within the Diocese devoted to ensuring the safety of minors and other vulnerable communities; and
  • Hiring a Clergy Monitor with law enforcement or counseling experience to develop and oversee abuse prevention plans for priests who have been accused of sexual abuse.

“The Diocese knew about this pervasive problem, but it did not adequately address allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct,” said Attorney General James. “Now, the Diocese has made a commitment to implementing holistic reforms that will ensure every report of sexual abuse or misconduct is handled quickly and transparently. New Yorkers deserve to trust their faith leaders, and my office will continue to support the Diocese’s efforts to rebuild that trust with their community.”

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An investigation by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) found that the Diocese failed to consistently comply with its own policies and procedures for responding to sexual abuse. The Diocese established these policies shortly after the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (Charter) in 2002 following media reports of widespread clergy sexual abuse.

The OAG also found that the Diocese’s policies were not adequate to guarantee the safety and protection of children. The Diocese did not have policies in place to ensure a prompt and thorough response to allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct. In various matters, the Diocesan Review Board (DRB) took too long to respond to a complaint or would arbitrarily apply inconsistent standards of proof when evaluating the credibility of an accusation. In certain instances, when an allegation of sexual abuse or misconduct was found to be credible, the Diocese did not disclose that information to the public and failed to sufficiently monitor the accused priests or clergy.

  • One priest admitted to the Diocese that he had repeatedly sexually abused minors. He was removed from all pastoral duties, but the Diocese did not inform parishioners. After USCCB adopted the Charter in 2002, the Diocese encouraged the priest to seek a voluntary laicization, or official removal from the priesthood, often referred to as “defrocking,” but he initially refused. He eventually agreed to be defrocked in 2007 but requested that it be kept confidential. The Diocese kept it secret until 2017, when it published a list of priests who had been removed from ministry and, for the first time, publicly announced that this priest had been credibly accused of and admitted to sexually abusing minors. In the decade between his defrocking and the Diocese’s public announcement, the priest worked as a professor at two universities.
  • In the 1990s, after learning of problems with a priest’s conduct, the Diocese repeatedly transferred the priest from parish to parish to avoid the complaints. The priest was never monitored, nor was he removed from duty. In 2000, a nun who was the principal of a Catholic school in the Diocese resigned from her position because she had witnessed the priest having inappropriate interactions with young boys and the Diocese did nothing more than issue a warning. In 2006, one of the priest’s alleged victims accused him of more than 100 incidents of sexual abuse in the 1980s, including masturbation and oral sex. Multiple other individuals corroborated certain facts to support the complaint, which matched additional complaints the Diocese had received from nuns and other clergy members about this priest. Still, after a three-year investigation, the DRB concluded that there was not enough evidence, applying a heightened standard of proof, to find the allegations against the priest credible. The priest was allowed to continue working unmonitored for many years. In 2016 and 2017, two more complainants came forward to accuse the priest, and in 2018, the DRB found both the new allegations and the original complaint from 2006 to be credible. The priest was removed from duty and forbidden from interacting with minors, but that was not made public until the Diocese published a list of credibly accused clergy in 2019.

As part of the settlement, the Diocese has agreed to enhanced policies and procedures for mitigating risks and managing allegations of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct, including publicly posting an explanation of the complaint and investigation process. To facilitate the complaint process, the Diocese will also post online a confidential portal and telephone number for submitting complaints and will implement a whistleblower policy to protect complainants from retaliation by Diocesan officials. The Diocese has also committed to accelerated investigations. For example, all complaints must be acknowledged by the Diocese within five business days, and the Bishop must determine whether or not a complaint against a living member of the clergy is credible within 20 days. If the Bishop determines the claim is credible, then he must refer the complaint to the DRB for an independent investigation, which must be completed within nine months. The Diocese will also refer all complaints it receives to law enforcement and will cooperate with any investigations. The Diocese will also improve its record-keeping procedures, including by adopting protocols for electronic management, organization, and retention of records of all allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct.

Moving forward, the Diocese has committed to publicly announce any decisions to remove priests or other clergy members from active ministry by issuing a press release and adding the offender’s name to a published list of credibly accused clergy. The Bishop will also inform the priest’s former parish and provide support to parishioners.

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The Diocese has also agreed to establish new leadership positions and continue to fund existing offices dedicated to protecting minors and other vulnerable people. The Director of the Office of Protection of Children and Young Adults will assist the Bishop in coordinating the Diocese’s sexual abuse prevention and victim assistance efforts. A new Clergy Monitor, with previous law enforcement or counseling experience addressing and preventing sexual abuse, will regularly monitor credibly accused priests and other clergy, as well as develop individualized prevention plans for each. The Safe Environment and Victim Assistance Ministry offices will continue to provide services to parishioners, including a healing intervention team and a survivor’s advisory board, which will provide recommendations to the Bishop.

Finally, the Diocese’s management of sexual abuse complaints and allegations will be subject to review by an independent monitor. The monitor must have expertise in sexual abuse prevention programs or other relevant compliance programs and be approved by the OAG. The monitoring period will last for a minimum of three years, with a potential extension to five years. Each year, the monitor will issue a public report evaluating the Diocese’s compliance with the enhanced policies and procedures set forth in this agreement. This report will be made public on the Diocese’s website.

The OAG acknowledges the Diocese’s cooperation with this investigation, negotiation, and agreement. The agreement specifically addresses the failures of the Diocese’s institutional response to the crisis of clergy sexual abuse and does not affect pending claims for damages that have been asserted by individual survivors of abuse against the Diocese.

The OAG began its investigation into the eight New York Catholic Dioceses in September 2018. In October 2022, Attorney General James reached a landmark settlement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo for mishandling child sexual abuse cases. Investigations into the Archdiocese of New York and the Dioceses of Albany, Ogdensburg, Rochester, Rockville Centre, and Syracuse remain ongoing.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Steven Shiffman and Diane Hertz of the Charities Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief James G. Sheehan and Enforcement Section Chief Emily Stern. The Charities Bureau is part of the Division for Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux and overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.

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