Catholic Diocese introduces new policy to handle sexual abuse against adults

Sep 25, 2019

The Buffalo Catholic Diocese has created "a new protocol for dealing with credible allegations of sexual abuse against adults by bishops, priests, deacons, religious, lay ministers and seminarians." In a video message Tuesday, Bishop Richard Malone outlined the "Adult Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures," alongside an updated "Code of Pastoral Conduct for Clergy," which are both effective immediately.

"Receiving less attention, but also reprehensible and far more pervasive, is sexual misconduct directed toward adults," the policy begins. "An adult is anyone 18 years of age or older. This abuse of power and authority, in various forms, often victimizes adults when they are most vulnerable and seeking spiritual comfort and counsel."

The policy says allegations of sexual misconduct should be reported to the diocese Victim Assistance Coordinator (895-3010) or through EthicsPoint, found on the diocese website. Additionally, "the Diocese encourages anyone who believes that they are a victim of a crime to immediately contact law enforcement and file a report."

"You rightly ask, 'What took you so long?' The fact is we have long had a code of conduct which defines behaviors expected of those in ministry, but which did not specify clear and consistently applied consequences," said Malone. "The inappropriate conduct of an adult on another audlt is handled differently by civil authorities. Consequently, I felt the need to define more rigorous policies and procedures for handling such matters should they occur, God forbid."

Malone said the diocese is one of the first in the United States to implement such policies for adult misconduct. He said they come about from work started in December of last year by the Adult Sexual Misconduct Task Force, which was tasked with "ensuring diocesan policies for adult misconduct complement the existing policy on child sexual abuse."

Find the policy for adults by clicking here.

Malone said the diocese has also introduced an updated code of conduct for clergy, including seminarians.

"Those in ministry must be above any reproach. They must demonstrate unassailable moral and professional conduct," Malone continued. "They must reflect the person of Christ in all that they do, say and how they conduct the affairs of the church each day."

Find the code of conduct for clergy by clicking here.

Malone concluded his message by apologizing for "the pain" of past incidents and "the shame" they have brought upon the diocese. Amidst growing calls for his resignation, Malone gave his "solemn pledge to work toward the healing" and addressing the broken confidence in the bishop's leadership that many have voiced through "concrete, measurable" actions.

On a related note, the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops is rejecting a request that it publicize the names of clergy members facing credible allegations of misconduct.

A group of survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church made the request to the bishops' council in Cornwall, ON ahead of their annual meeting this week.  The survivors say publishing the names of clergy accused of misconduct would make the church more transparent and accountable.

Bishops in New York and two other U.S. states have made lists public, but the Canadian bishops' council said it is up to police whether to release names.

The Canadian Press contributed to this story.