WASHINGTON (December 10, 2002) -- Belleville Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued the following statement concerning the agreement announced today between the Diocese of Manchester and the Office of the Attorney General of the State of New Hampshire:
"The Diocese of Manchester has reach a legally binding mutual agreement with the office of the Attorney General of New Hampshire which involves acknowledgment by the Diocese that the State has evidence likely to sustain a criminal conviction against the Diocese for a failure in its duty to care for young people.
"I understand the pressures under which the Diocese acted, and I note that this resolution is specific to the facts in the Diocese of Manchester and to the laws of the State of New Hampshire.
"It does not in any way indicate agreement on the part of any other diocese or of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in the legal analysis on which the Office of the Attorney General of New Hampshire has acted.
"However, there are elements in the agreement which parallel the bishops' own decisions last June which are embodied in the `Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.' In particular, the idea that an audit function would be helpful in resolving this terrible problem permanently was adopted with the creation of the Office of Child and Youth Protection. With its director, Kathleen McChesney, in place, every diocese will now benefit by an audit of their efforts to keep children safe.
"We did this because, as bishops individually and collectively have acknowledged, there were mistakes and failures in our handling of cases of abuse of minors by clergy. They were serious ones, but they are not attributable to intentionally bad acts but, most often, to a lack of awareness of the extent to which this behavior entails a deep sickness which is resistant to treatment.
"The errors of specific persons, at specific times and places which may have endangered children, cannot be attributed to the `Church' as a whole without overlooking the lives of integrity and good works of ministers of the Church in our country throughout its history.
"There is a difference between mistakes and intentional wrong doing. As Church leaders, we are willing to own up to our mistakes. However, except for those very few who personally have also been perpetrators, church leaders have not intentionally endangered the welfare of children. We will always repent of the mistakes that resulted in abusers being kept on in ministry to hurt and abuse more children. We give our full support to means, such the Office of Child and Youth Protection, which will help us prevent abuse in the future."