by Joseph Esposito
A recent Associated Press story accused diocesan review boards around the country of failing in their mission to investigate claims of clergy sexual abuse. After reading the story, I felt compelled to respond in order to inform Brooklyn and Queens Catholics about the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Diocesan Review Board and the important work it does to resolve allegations of clerical sexual abuse.
The AP story reported some boards are full of unqualified, well-meaning, but incompetent members. That is the furthest thing from the truth in the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Board. The range of expertise is likely unmatched anywhere and it is nationally regarded as a leader in effective review boards.
I have been on the Board since 2013 and bring the expertise gained over 45 years of service in the New York City Police Department. Having conducted dozens of investigations, I know the investigative process.
There are eight other members on the Board who have tremendous credentials. We have a retired NYPD Chief who is also a board member on the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, a psychologist, a nurse, a social worker who works with sex offenders, and a parish pastor. We also have three attorneys, one who is a former Queens prosecutor and another who is a victim-survivor of clergy sexual abuse.
Our Board members bring diverse expertise to the all-important work of determining whether accusations of sexual abuse against a priest are credible.
When an allegation comes into the Diocese of Brooklyn’s independent reporting line, a notification is automatically made to the district attorney’s office in either Brooklyn or Queens. If they pass on the case, usually because the statute of limitations has run out, then the case comes to the Review Board. We work with an independent investigative firm who helps us get to the truth. We ask many questions, and we follow every lead we can find. Some investigations will involve interviews of 30 to 40 people. We look for other victims in our painstaking effort toward justice. When the investigator meets with us near the completion of the probe, we are given a synopsis of the case, the interviews conducted and the evidence that has been collected. If we feel that more questions remain, we send the investigator back out in a quest to get us those answers. Only when we feel the investigation is complete, and no stone has been left unturned, do we move to vote on the case. We take the evidence gathered and strive to reach a consensus as to whether there is reasonable belief that this allegation could have happened. These deliberations can be intense and painful, but everyone on the Board selflessly gives of themselves to find justice.
Once we make a determination, we draft a letter to the Diocese for the Bishop’s review. Bishop DiMarzio will review our findings and take appropriate action. In each one of the cases we have presented to him, the Bishop has followed the recommendation of the Review Board.
Luis A. Torres, Jr, a survivor of clergy abuse, a national advocate on survivor issues, co-founder of Spirit Fire and a practicing attorney, has been a member of the Board since 2001 and promotes bias for survivors. “For me, this has always been a murder case, the murder of a child. That’s how I treat it. I look at a survivor and know this may be the first opportunity to have someone believe them. So, we look at it with that degree of solemnity,” says Torres. No one can bring what he brings to the Board, because none of us have walked in his shoes. Torres, who has also done some work with the USCCB, the National Review Board and dioceses across the country, says Brooklyn is a leader with its Diocesan Review Board, and other dioceses should look at it as a model.
Sal Carcaterra, a retired Deputy Chief from the New York City Police Department brings more than two decades of experience in investigations. “The cases we see are tough because they are old, it is hard to get witnesses and memories fade, but we do our best to piece them together.The Board is filled with smart and strong individuals. I would not sit on this Board if it was a sham,” Carcaterra says.
Attorney and former Queens prosecutor Tom Principe says the investigations that are conducted are thorough and robust. “If we suspect that there is abuse uncovered, the cleric is immediately taken out of active ministry. We don’t want priests in contact with the public if there is any suggestion of improper conduct. There is zero tolerance with any of this stuff. What happened did so much damage to the Church. That’s why today there is zero tolerance.”
Another member of the review Board, Bill Ford, is a social worker who works with the sex offender population. He uniquely advises us on the behavioral characteristics typically seen with a sex offender. Ford says the Diocese of Brooklyn is way ahead of the curve when it comes to conducting investigations and the outreach to victims. Ford says in his three years on the Board, “no decision has ever been made that I was uncomfortable with.”
Family law attorney Sandra Muñoz wants Catholics to know the Board is not working for the Diocese. “We are not working for the Bishop or a priest, we are working for victims and parishioners. That’s why I am on this board. I want to ensure that any priest that didn’t act like a priest, that he not be in ministry.”
A nurse for 50 years, Madeline Hogan is also a mother of two sons and grandmother of five boys. “To deal with disappointment in the hierarchal church, to be honest, that they weren’t able to handle this better before, that’s the hardest thing. The biggest positive is that we’re not sweeping it under the rug anymore, we’re not ignoring it. It’s a proactive stance to say, we’re going to help hold people accountable. We’re your voice, we’re the voice of the laity that’s been so hurt, that’s been so disillusioned, that’s so angry. I’m representing in a sense, all mothers that have to worry about their children. I’m representing them, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
The majority of the Diocesan Review Board members are parents. We all know there is no more important mission for the Catholic Church today than protecting children.
I hope this snapshot of the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Diocesan Review Board gives Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens a better understanding of this important process. At the same time, I hope this helps portray the sincerity our volunteer Board members bring with them to fulfill this tremendous responsibility.
As a lifelong Catholic, I see the Review Board in action as a powerful sign of the Church at work, lay experts coming together to seek truth and justice for all the parties involved.
Esposito, Chair of the Diocese of Brooklyn Diocesan Review Board, is the former Chief of Department at the New York City Police Department and former Commissioner of the New York City Office of Emergency Management.