NEW YORK, MARCH 25, 2002 (Zenit.org).- In a letter delivered to parishioners over the weekend, Cardinal Edward Egan defended himself against complaints he mishandled cases of child sexual abuse by priests while he was bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
In the letter, sent to 413 parishes and read in the afternoon Masses on Palm Sunday, the cardinal condemns all kinds of sexual abuse and says that if a case is discovered in his diocese, the culprit “will be removed from pastoral ministry.”
The cardinal points out that the “explosive headlines of the last few weeks have focused everyone´s attention on the issue of sexual abuse of minors by a small number of clergy. The overwhelming majority of our good and dedicated priests, who do splendid work day after day, have found their reputations unfairly tarnished by the terrible misdeeds of a few.”
“Should the Archdiocese of New York be approached with an allegation, we will make the appropriate report to the proper authorities, if there is reasonable cause to suspect abuse and the victim does not oppose the reporting,” the cardinal stressed.
“I would strongly encourage, however, anyone who has an allegation of sexual abuse to bring it to the proper civil authorities directly and immediately,” he stated.
Cardinal Egan said that it “has been, and continues to be, the policy of the Archdiocese of New York to thoroughly investigate all allegations and to respond appropriately and pastorally to the person making the allegation and to the clergyman as well.”
“For the person bringing the allegation, and without commenting on the truth of the accusation, medical, psychological and spiritual assistance, and in appropriate instances, economic assistance, may be offered in the spirit of Christian charity,” the cardinal continued.
Cardinal Egan said that a “March 17th article in a Hartford newspaper, widely reported in the local media, focused on what the writers claimed were mishandled cases of child abuse by clergy during my tenure in the Diocese of Bridgeport. About these cases, the following points need to be made.”
He continued: “First, in every case discussed in the article, the alleged abuse occurred prior to my appointment as Bishop of Bridgeport.”
“Second, the policy and practice that I established for the Diocese and followed in every instance required that any clergy accused of sexual misconduct with a minor was, after preliminary diocesan investigation, to be sent immediately to one of the most prominent psychiatric institutions in the nation for evaluation. If the conclusions were favorable, he was returned to ministry, in some cases with restrictions, so as to be doubly careful. If they were not favorable, he was not allowed to function as a priest,” the cardinal wrote.
Third, “in all of the cases, the plaintiffs were already adults represented by attorneys and seeking financial settlements from the Diocese,” the archbishop stated. “These cases were well publicized, and a matter of public record at the time. At no time in these discussions did any representative of the Diocese discourage the plaintiffs or their attorneys from contacting civil authorities.”
Fourth, as the victims “were represented by legal counsel, direct communications between myself and the plaintiffs were precluded,” the cardinal continues. He said he had hoped to speak to them personally to offer them his help.
The archbishop of New York ends his message by saying that “it is my intent to keep the people of the Archdiocese informed regarding these matters as the situation warrants. Moreover, I pledge to you that I am totally and unconditionally committed to protecting our children from abuse of any kind. My clergy, who are good and holy men, join me in this. As I said earlier this week, our children are to be protected always, and in this the Archdiocese of New York will be ever vigilant.”