Diocese Requests That Media and Others Respect Privacy of Victim-Survivors

Thu, Apr 11th 2019 08:00 pm

 Fair and objective reporting is essential to accurate coverage of controversial issues such as the crisis involving past child abuse in our diocese. Impartiality aids accuracy. Recent media attacks by a television reporter alleging that the diocese has not "come clean about the true scope" of the sexual abuse that occurred in this diocese are simply not accurate. Consider these facts:

Since 2002, allegations of child sexual abuse are reported to an independent Review Board, which consists mainly of lay people and has included retired judges, former prosecutors, physicians, experts in the treatment of child sexual abuse and other community leaders.

  • Since 2003, the diocese has reported abuse to the appropriate district attorney pursuant to a memorandum signed by all the district attorneys for the eight counties of the diocese.

  • The diocese is cooperating with and providing documents to state and federal investigators about abuse allegations received over the past several decades.

  • The diocese has disclosed the complete scope of the crisis by publicizing that it has received allegations of child sexual abuse against more than 130 diocesan priests and over 40 religious order priests.

Additionally, the community should be aware of some important points about this crisis:

  • Almost all of the reported cases of clerical abuse involve conduct that occurred decades ago.

  • There have been only three diocesan priests against whom there have been substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse in this century, and all three were removed from ministry.

  • There have been no substantiated claims of child sexual abuse against any diocesan priest ordained in the past 30 years.

  • The diocese publicizes the names of priests if the allegations can be investigated and substantiated. Even if a claim cannot be investigated by the diocese because, for example, the priest is deceased or belongs to a religious order, the priest's name will be added to the list if the diocese is aware of more than one claim against the priest.

These facts have been publicized repeatedly by the diocese, and we refer you to a more detailed statement from Bishop Malone being released today addressing the abuse issue and some of the other inaccurate media attacks. But we issue this press release to address an unfortunate and painful consequence of some of the more irresponsibly aggressive reporting.

Last summer, copies of confidential documents were unlawfully removed from the diocese. Subsequently, those documents were leaked to a television reporter, who has been using them to generate numerous news stories.

Recently, however, it has come to the attention of the diocese that these actions have led to significantly increased distress to people who have made reports that they were abused by clergy. The leaked documents contained the names of several people who had submitted reports of abuse to the diocese with the understanding that they would be kept confidential. Using the documents unlawfully provided to him, the reporter recently made uninvited contact with some of the people who had made the complaints.

Yesterday, an attorney representing one such person wrote to complain that the client had been placed in a "state of emotional crisis" because the reporter had "suddenly appeared on [the client's] door step with a large photograph of [the client's] abuser . . . . The [reporter], without consideration or regard for the consequences of his actions on [the client], capriciously waved the photograph about and told [the client] that he was following up with priest abuse victims in the Buffalo Diocese. [The reporter] then walked away leaving my client distraught, without support, feeling violated and without the slightest concern for the traumatic consequence his actions had caused." The incident left the client in "a state of emotional crisis." When, following the occurrence, the reporter tweeted about the exchange, the attorney described it as "an outrage."

Because of the release of private information to the media has resulted in added injury to some of the very people who are reporting abuse, the diocese is asking all members of the media to please respect the privacy and confidentiality of persons who have come forward to report abuse. In addition to this letter, we also have heard directly from some victim-survivors who say that they were mistreated by the media and others who live in fear that, because their information was improperly disclosed, they might be contacted by a media representative at any time.

There should be media coverage of the abuse that occurred in this diocese decades ago and of the way that the diocese has responded and continues to respond. The diocese also encourages abuse victim-survivors to be as open or as private as they choose to be. But the privacy of those victim-survivors who do not wish to publicize the details of their abuse must be respected. The diocese continues to encourage anyone who was abused to report it by calling the diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator, Jacqueline Joy, at (716) 895-3010.

The diocese regrets the improper disclosure of information and hopes that the threat of unwanted media intrusion will not deter people from coming forward.

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