Archdiocese to Speed Reports of Abuse Charges

New York Times/May 17, 2002
By Robert D. McFadden

The head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford agreed yesterday under pressure from Connecticut officials to start using a state child-abuse line to immediately report any accusations of sexual abuse involving priests and minors.

The commitment was made by Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin, 74, the leader of Hartford's 757,000 Catholics, in a meeting with John M. Bailey, the chief state's attorney, and Kristine D. Ragaglia, commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.

"I was very pleased with the archbishop's genuine interest in ensuring he has a system in place that protects the children of this state," Ms. Ragaglia said after the meeting in Hartford. She said the archdiocese would use her department's number for reporting abuse, (800) 842-2288.

Hartford thus became the latest in a growing number of dioceses that report accusations of sexual abuse directly to law enforcement. Cardinal Edward M. Egan said on Wednesday that the Archdiocese of New York would do so, abandoning inquiries by a church review board. Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn has made a similar commitment.

The Hartford Archdiocese, which has more than 400 priests and 330 deacons, has been the target of a dozen lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct by its clergymen since 1990 and has paid nearly $2.5 million to settle them, a lawyer for the archdiocese acknowledged recently.

Ms. Ragaglia wrote to Archbishop Cronin this month voicing doubt that the church was obeying a state law that requires clergy members to report any accusations of child abuse not heard in a confessional. She cited news accounts saying there had been seven complaints since January, though none had been reported.

Ms. Ragaglia said after yesterday's meeting that she and Mr. Bailey had insisted that the church promptly report all allegations. "They agreed that information would be forwarded," she said.

Archbishop Cronin could not be reached for comment last night. But the Rev. John P. Gatzak, a spokesman, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying the church had never intended to fully investigate abuse accusations before reporting them, only to rule out obvious cases, like crank calls. "The intent is that the archdiocese will report all cases of abuse," he said.

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