ALBANY -- Fourteen district attorneys whose counties are within the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese have called on Bishop Howard J. Hubbard to reshape the diocese's handling of sexual abuse complaints against clergy and other employees.
Citing "concerns about how these cases are being handled," the district attorneys signed a proposed memorandum of understanding that was presented to Hubbard early last month. Hubbard, who has been bishop since 1977, signed the document Friday, a day after the Times Union asked the diocese questions about it. He declined a request for an interview.
The district attorneys signed the memorandum in alphabetical order of their counties, which include the greater Capital Region from Delaware to Washington counties.
The memorandum was shown to the Times Union by two people not authorized to comment publicly. It marks the second time since 2002 that the district attorneys have banded together and privately raised questions about the diocese's handling of sexual abuse cases, including whether church leaders had once systematically shielded accused priests from law enforcement scrutiny.
In the letter to Hubbard, the district attorneys said the diocese's current practice is problematic because church officials screen people who come forward with allegations of sexual abuse before law enforcement officials are notified. The victims are also required to fill out detailed forms about the abuse and the effect it has had on them, and to sign waivers giving the church access to their medical records.
"This stated policy of the Albany diocese does not require the diocese to notify law enforcement of any allegation that the diocese does not find credible or believes is beyond the statute of limitations," the district attorneys' letter says.
Once an abuse allegation has been processed by the diocese, Michael L. Costello, an Albany attorney whose firm has represented the diocese for decades, sends a letter to the district attorney in whose county any alleged abuse took place. Costello's letters do not give many details or identify the victim.
The concerns raised by the district attorneys come 10 years after their agencies issued a similar letter to the diocese to "express the grave concerns of our constituencies about the manner in which such cases have been handled in the past," said the letter, dated April 11, 2002, which was never made public.