My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Over the past several months trust in the leadership of the Catholic Church and a lack of transparency has been called into question. For many, trust has been shattered in the wake of the revelations of the failures of bishops and Church officials to protect children and adults from sexual misconduct and abuse.
There have been questions about what the Church is doing now to address the scourge of sexual misconduct and sexual abuse of minors. The Diocese of Norwich takes the issues of sexual misconduct and abuse of children and adults very seriously. I would like to take this time to explain our diocese’s policies and practices for reporting abuse and misconduct by members of the clergy, employees, or volunteers and describe what happens when a report is made.
The first written policy created for the diocese to deal with these issues was published on September 19, 1990. It established the Diocesan Pastoral Care Committee, later renamed the Diocesan Review Board, and a process for dealing with these most important issues. It reminded diocesan, parish, and school personnel of their reporting obligations. The policy was revised in 1994 based on the subsequent experience of the Pastoral Care Committee and the evolving understanding about the nature of sexual misconduct, harassment, and abuse of children and adults.
It was revised again in 2004 and 2013 to reflect the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests, Deacons, or Other Church Personnel published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All diocesan policies related to creating a safe environment can be found and accessed on the Diocese of Norwich website under the Office for Safe Environments: https://www.norwichdiocese.org/Find/Diocesan-Offices/Safe-Environments
In 1994, before the inception of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the Diocese of Norwich implemented a Diocesan Reporting Line which anyone can call to report suspected abuse or neglect by diocesan personnel. Volunteers, employees and clergy of all diocesan parishes, schools and institutions are instructed that such a line exists. The Reporting Line is publicized in the Four County Catholic, as well as on posters and brochures which are available in all parishes, school and institutions. When a report of suspected abuse by diocesan personnel committed against a minor or adult is received, the allegation is investigated by my delegate for the Office of Internal Investigations. The Bishop’s delegate for the Office of Internal Investigations is a lay person with a background in law enforcement. This person is to promote the truth and comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable persons to civil authorities and to cooperate with them in their investigations in accord with state law. If a minor or vulnerable adult is in imminent danger, diocesan personnel, clergy, ministerial personnel, employees, volunteers, or members of the Diocese of Norwich are to call 911 immediately. Otherwise, they are to report it to either the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (1-800-842-2288) or the New York Child Protective Services (1-800-635-1522). Then, they are to call the Diocese of Norwich Reporting Line (1-800-624-7407).
My delegate for the Office of Internal Investigations contacts the person reporting suspected abuse to receive more information about the allegation. He also offers the support of the diocesan Assistance Coordinator. The Assistance Coordinator will reach out to and for persons affected by sexual misconduct by a priest, deacon, or others who minister, work, or volunteer in the Diocese of Norwich. After the Office of Internal Investigations concludes the investigation, the results are reported to the Diocesan Review Board. The Review Board is a standing consultative body that advises me as I assess allegations of sexual misconduct made against any diocesan personnel and their suitability for ministry and/or ongoing employment by the Diocese. The Diocesan Review Board consists of at least five voting members, all of whom are lay persons not employed or compensated in any way by the Diocese. Non-voting members consist of the Judicial Vicar of the Diocese or his delegate, the Bishop’s Delegate for Safe Environments, the Diocesan Attorney, and the Risk Manager of the Diocese. The Review Board receives and reviews the findings of the Office of Internal Affairs and assists me in formulating a course of action in response to that report.
I take these recommendations very seriously and are very helpful to me in moving forward and bringing resolution and healing to the pain victims have experienced and still feel today. I repeat and affirm what I stated in my letter to you in August. “We in the Diocese will continue to follow an absolute zero tolerance policy toward those who committed crimes against God's children…There is no higher priority within the Diocese than the protection and spiritual welfare of our young."
Michael R. Cote
Bishop of Norwich