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Spotlight Report

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N.Y. archbishop gives DA list of accused clergy

Egan says deal applies only to past allegations

By Fred Kaplan, Globe Staff, 4/4/2002

NEW YORK - Cardinal Edward Egan, head of the New York Archdiocese, announced yesterday that he has given the Manhattan district attorney a list naming priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct with minors.

At first, the action appeared to end a standoff between church and state over the controversy of how to handle priests accused of child molestation.

However, at the end of the day, the archdiocese released another statement that may bode more disputes ahead.

Egan's agreement to turn over documents to the district attorney turns out to apply only to alleged abuses of the past. In future incidents, the later statement indicates, the church will handle accusations on its own, as before.

As recently as two weeks ago, Egan refused to provide authorities with allegations of sexual abuse, past or present. In a letter addressed to the 2.5 million Catholics in the archdiocese, he said he would report allegations only ''if there is reasonable cause to suspect abuse'' - and that ''reasonable cause'' would be determined by an internal church panel, whose members he did not name.

Yesterday's announcement reversed this position for past abuses. Spokesmen for both Egan and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau declined to reveal how many priests were named on the list.

However, the later statement, entitled ''Addendum to the Archdiocesan Policy Relating to Sexual Misconduct,'' said that in the future, priests accused of abuse ''will be interviewed by at least two Archdiocesan officials.'' These officials will then present the information to ''an Advisory Committee of clergy and laity,'' which ''shall determine whether or not the allegation is to be reported to the District Attorney or any other appropriate authority.''

This is basically the same policy enunciated by Egan two weeks ago.

The ''Addendum'' is likely to displease local prosecutors, who earlier in the day reacted positively to the cardinal's gesture of cooperation with Morgenthau.

The archdiocese announced that gesture 30 minutes before a press conference in suburban Westchester County, at which seven other district attorneys were slated to release a letter to Egan, calling on him to release exactly this sort of information.

The seven DAs represent the other counties encompassed by the archdiocese, including the Bronx and several northern suburbs stretching into the Hudson Valley.

Their letter, which was written by Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, stated - in contradiction to Egan's statement of two weeks ago - ''It is the duty and responsibility of the criminal justice system ... to determine the reliability of an allegation of sex abuse, not the church.''

In a midday phone interview, Pirro said of the cardinal's reversal, ''I'm glad to hear it. This is a first step,'' though she added, '' We will determine what the parameters of any investigation will be.''

She was also pleased that Egan had asked Morgenthau to forward information from his list to other district attorneys if it concerns cases in their jurisdiction.

Pirro could not be reached later in the day for a response to the archdiocese's later statement. However, it seems to raise the same concerns she and the other six district attorneys had expressed in their letter.

It is not yet clear whether the lists supplied to Morgenthau will lead to any indictments or even relevant investigations. Egan's statement said the list covers allegations made over the past ''35 to 40 years.''

In New York, the statute of limitations for child-abuse cases runs five years from when a crime is reported or five years after the person abused turns 18. If a complainant is now 23 or older, a case cannot be prosecuted.

Still, prosecutors will probably have something to work with. The cardinal's statement said the list includes ''a summary of the complaints made ... the date and location of the alleged activity and the outcome of any legal proceedings that may have been taken, along with the present status of the accused, if it is known.'' The statement added, ''It must be acknowledged that not all of the allegations have been substantiated.''

This story ran on page A22 of the Boston Globe on 4/4/2002.
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