Our Opinion: Clergy abuse draws focus of region's DAs

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The ongoing clergy abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and the shameful response to it by church authorities has drawn the attention of elected officials across the state and nation (See George F. Will column below.) That includes Western Massachusetts, where the region's three district attorneys, including the Berkshires' Andrea Harrington, have joined forces in a effort to both create more church transparency in reporting alleged crimes and see that justice is done for its victims (Eagle, March 12).

Ms. Harrington, Northwestern DA David Sullivan and Hampden DA Anthony Gulluni agree that the Springfield Diocese, which includes Berkshire County, has made positive steps toward facing up to past transgressions and reporting any new ones. However, the wheels of change have proved slow-moving — despite the efforts of the diocesan bishop, Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski. While Bishop Rozanski has instituted abuse awareness training and background checks for all diocesan employees, including clergy, there remains disagreement between the diocese and law enforcement authorities about how pro-active a church under assault has been in reporting allegations of abuse. Some documents that the diocese claims to have sent local district attorneys regarding such alleged crimes have turned up missing, prompting a new policy of sending them by receipted, certified mail.

The increased legal pressure is welcome, and helps set the stage for creating an ongoing culture of accountability if the church is ever to recover from the damage wrought to its flock by these crimes. Through its spokesman, the Springfield Diocese as welcomed this effort on the part of prosecutors.

As important, however, is the principle articulated by Northwestern DA Sullivan, himself a Catholic, who understands that "justice" can take many forms. Despite the fact that some of the crimes committed by clergy in the Springfield Diocese have exceeded the statute of limitations, DAs Sullivan and Harrington agree that investigating them and an acknowledgment by law enforcement that victims have been wronged can be a source of comfort for many, including those who have suffered lasting psychological and emotional injuries at the hands of the Church.

We question, however, whether the DAs should move beyond the criminal approach to these crimes to the civil when those actions can be pursued by victims through private attorneys who will charge on a contingency basis. The DAs have finite resources which could be better spent on criminal cases that actually require public funding.

To its credit, the Springfield Diocese has instituted overdue measures to confront past abuses by clergy and their superiors and to prevent future abuses. If that attitude is maintained going forward, and if the region's district attorneys can pursue cases that have a reasonable degree of success and will not threaten financial resources needed elsewhere, this effort could help address a scandal that all parties, including the Diocese and Catholics in general, would like to see come to an end.




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