Friday, November 21, 2003

Mike Allen's statement on plea agreement

Statement by Michael K. Allen
Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney

Nov. 20, 2003

Hold them accountable.

Make sure this doesn't happen again.

I cannot tell you how many times or how many people have said that to me over the last year. But they were not talking about a serial rapist, or a multiple murderer, or the vicious rioters who brought our city to its knees.

They were talking about one of the most respected and revered institutions in our county - the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

And the depth of the public's anger and frustration with the leadership of the Catholic Church rivals that expressed to me about any case since I have been prosecutor.

I can tell you today that we have done exactly what the citizens of Hamilton County and this office felt was required. We have held them accountable, and we have taken steps to make sure what took place in the Catholic Church over the last several decades will not happen again.

When the Archbishop first announced in March of 2002 that less than five priests who have abused children in the past remain active in the church, my immediate questions were, "Who were these priests?" and, "Who did they abuse?" and, "Are they in a position to abuse again?"

In order to fully investigate the extent of child abuse by members of the church, I impaneled a special grand jury to investigate what crimes may have been committed and whether any could still be prosecuted.

The results of this investigation were frustrating. Although dozens of victims came forward with credible reports of abuse, the statute of limitations clearly barred nearly all of these crimes from being prosecuted.

At the same time, I was relieved to find very few substantiated sex abuse allegation since the early 80s, and I know of no priest currently active in the Archdiocese who has ever had a substantiated claim of abuse made against them.

During this investigation, we saw that most of these sex abuse claims were never reported to anyone, and perhaps the Archdiocese was unaware of the extent of the abuse by their clergy. At the same time, a number of these cases of abuse were reported to the Archdiocese, with no corresponding report made by the Archdiocese to the police. My question when I saw this was obvious: "Why weren't they reported?"

Although only a misdemeanor, Ohio law makes it a crime for an individual or an organization, knowing a felony has been committed, to fail to report the felony to law enforcement.

I impaneled a second special grand jury to look at whether the Archdiocese of Cincinnati violated this law and failed to report these crimes of abuse.

Today, by their pleas in court to five counts of failing to report a felony, the Archdiocese admits that during the five-year period when most of these sex abuse crimes were occurring, they failed to inform law enforcement of their knowledge of these crimes. By their plea, they also fulfilled one of the goals of this investigation: The Archdiocese is held responsible.

Holding the Archdiocese criminally responsible for the way they mishandled reports of sex abuse by priests is not only necessary, it is unprecedented. To my knowledge, this is the first conviction of its kind in any jurisdiction within the United States, and it sends a clear and unequivocal message.

Through voluminous e-mails, phone calls and countless conversations, it has been the oft-stated desire of the citizens, and that includes many of the church's rank-and-file, that they wanted my office to get to the truth. We have uncovered that truth.

If there was a further cry, it was for accountability. Measured by those barometers, I announce to you today that, in the names of all those people who very painfully shared with us their stories of shame and humiliation, I stand not only before you, but before them, to say, we have done our duty to the fullest extent permissible by law. Justice has finally been done.

But a second and perhaps more important objective of this investigation was to find a way to ensure these acts of abuse never get ignored in the future. After some very constructive discussions with my office over the last several days, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has agreed to put into place reporting safeguards even stronger than required by Ohio law.

Whereas Ohio law requires law enforcement to be notified any time one has knowledge of a felony being committed, the Archdiocese has agreed to notify this office any time they receive any allegation of sexual abuse.

Often times, these allegations are investigated by law enforcement and deemed unfounded - and the public never hears of these false or mistaken claims. That is the way the justice system should and does work.

But it is important that trained law enforcement officers make such a determination as opposed to the Archdiocese investigating their own, as was their practice in the past. Both the Archdiocese and the public are better served when the police investigate criminal allegations. And by this agreement, I can assure the public that all future allegations of sex abuse by clergy will be properly investigated by law enforcement.

Although not a function of this office, I am aware of the civil suits filed against the Archdiocese by the victims of these 20-year-old crimes. I have shared the frustration with the statute of limitation that these victims have experienced in their civil suits.

The fact that so much time has elapsed was the single biggest factor that prevented me from bringing criminal charges against the priests who committed these crimes. That lapse of time has also caused dismissals of many of the civil lawsuits brought by the victims seeking damages for what they suffered at the hands of these priests.

I'm pleased to announce that as part of this agreement between my office and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, the Archdiocese has volunteered to set up a fund of $3 million to compensate anyone who suffered sexual abuse by the Archdiocese. The terms of the fund are explained in our agreement with the Archdiocese, but it will be available even to those whose cases are barred by the statute of limitations.

I believe this fund voluntarily set up by the Archdiocese, their admission to five counts of failing to report a felony, and their signing an agreement to report all future allegations of sexual abuse to our office, has given this office and the citizens of Hamilton County what they have rightfully demanded - an admission of wrongdoing, a measure of accountability and a process to keep this from happening in the future.

This brings to an end one of the lengthiest and certainly most painful investigations ever undertaken in my office. This investigation by its very nature has been contentious, and the defense has been, as I would expect, very aggressive.

As part of the agreement reached this week, the Archdiocese provided our office with all of the records we have requested, and we questioned under oath all of their members who had knowledge of clergy abuse and the investigation of this abuse.

I hope our efforts have brought not only justice for the past, but hope for a better future. No longer will abusive priests go unpunished, and no longer will the vast majority of our clergy, who day in and day out truly do God's work, have their reputations ruined by the acts of a few.

Archdiocese found guilty of failing to report abuse
Mike Allen's statement on plea agreement
Despite plea, few see need for bishop's exit
Some of faithful content with plea
Fund for victims has a big catch
Ask a question about the Archdiocese's plea

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