TRENTON, N.J. — A statement signed by New Jersey bishops details ongoing efforts to ensure safe environments for children and youth, deal with clergy charged with abuse and assist victims in their process of healing.
The March 4 statement was provided to the 120 state legislators and media outlets by the New Jersey Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, in Trenton.
The statement begins by acknowledging the recent Vatican summit on clergy abuse “to address a morally reprehensible, shameful and horrific crime — the sexual abuse of children.”
The bishops point out that for two decades the Catholic Church in New Jersey has acted to address clergy sexual abuse and currently has a policy of zero tolerance, which means any priest who has abused “even one child is to be permanently barred from engaging in any act of public ministry.”
Each New Jersey diocese has policies in place to respond to and prevent the sexual abuse of minors, and these policies are regularly verified by an external audit. In the past 10 years, the state’s dioceses have trained more than 3.1 million adults, children, employees, clergy and volunteers to detect and prevent abuse and during the past 15 years, dioceses have completed 385,000 criminal background checks of all clergy, staff and volunteers who have regular contact with minors.
The statement points out that the Newark Archdiocese and the Trenton, Camden, Paterson and Metuchen dioceses are all “committed to assisting victims of abuse whenever and however we can” particularly through victim assistance coordinators.
In 2002, the New Jersey dioceses entered into a memorandum of understanding or a nonbinding agreement with the attorney general and all 21 county prosecutors to facilitate the intervention of law enforcement whenever there is any allegation that a minor has been sexually abused.
Since that time, the statement said, the dioceses have reported all allegations of abuse to public authorities, whether the person bringing the complaint is now an adult, no matter how long ago the abuse is alleged to have occurred, and whether or not the accused is living or deceased.
The New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice described this agreement in a 2002 news release as “the most comprehensive and precise agreement of its kind in the nation for not only aiming to protect victims of sexual offenses but to ensure prosecutors are “provided with all relevant information regarding allegations of sexual assault — whether past, present or future.”
More recently, the bishops said the dioceses welcomed Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s task force formed last September to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy in New Jersey and all dioceses are cooperating fully.
Last November, the state’s dioceses announced a Victims Compensation Program to provide victims with an alternative to litigation providing them with a non-adversarial process to resolve their claims with a significantly lower level of proof and corroboration than required in a court of law.
The New Jersey Catholic Conference has offered to work with state legislators who are sponsoring bills to amend the statute of limitations, saying it supports the “complete elimination of the statute of limitations prospectively for both perpetrators and institutions” and backs the “elimination of the statute of limitations retroactively for perpetrators.”
“Now is not a time for just more analysis and study,” the bishops’ statement said. “This is a time for action to prevent any future abuse anywhere it might occur. ”
The statement was signed by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark; Bishops David M. O’Connell of Trenton, Dennis J. Sullivan of Camden, Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson and James F. Checchio of Metuchen; and Auxiliary Bishops John W. Flesey and Manuel A. Cruz of Newark.