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Bishop Daniel Thomas talks Pennsylvania abuse reports, time in Philadelphia

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    Bishop Daniel Thomas speaks during an interview at the Diocese of Toledo in Toledo on Monday.

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    Bishop Daniel Thomas during an interview at the Diocese of Toledo in Toledo on Monday.

    THE BLADE/KURT STEISS
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Just a day after Sunday, Mass-goers received his written response to a clergy sexual abuse scandal that has re-erupted in Pennsylvania, Toledo Bishop Daniel Thomas acknowledged his own inclusion in an earlier grand jury report that scrutinized the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Bishop Thomas served as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia between 2006 and 2014, before his appointment in the Diocese of Toledo. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia was subject to grand jury reports in 2005 and 2011, but was not included in the most recent report out of Pennsylvania, which covered six of the state’s eight dioceses.

Then-Auxiliary Bishop Thomas is identified in the 2011 report as being among church officials who approved a review board’s conclusion in 2008 that a victim’s claims of suffering abuse were not substantiated, despite what the grand jury identifies as the victim’s “obvious credibility,” the corroboration of other witnesses, and an earlier allegation against the same priest, Joseph J. Gallagher.

The victim committed suicide less than a year after he learned of the conclusion, according to the report, and the archdiocese later removed the accused priest from ministry.

“I trusted the expertise of the review board and how they evaluated that case,” the bishop said.

BLADE BRIEFING: Bishop talks Pennsylvania abuse reports

Bishop Thomas spoke with The Blade on Monday in a wide-ranging interview on the fallout of the abuse revelations in Pennsylvania, where a grand jury found that more than 300 priests had victimized more than 1,000 children over a more than 70-year period. He discussed its implications in the Diocese of Toledo, which has also grappled with clergy sex abuse over the years, and which notably paid out $1.9 million in a series of settlements to victims in 2004.

Regarding the case in which he is named in 2011, Bishop Thomas noted that the grand jury criticized the efficacy of the review board model at the time. The process in place locally is in line with the recommendations that came out of that report, he said, including that the diocesan victim assistance coordinator does not himself investigate any alleged abuse.

Asked how parishioners could trust him to take the matter seriously if or when new allegations arise locally, in light of a documented failure to intervene in Philadelphia, he said:

“I hope they would recognize that everything I have done since I arrived has been to respond transparently, honestly, and swiftly to any allegation of abuse. All I can simply say is that I would hope that they can believe that in the actions I have taken, and the robust manner of the response to any allegation, that would help them to understand that what is going on here at the diocese is both responsible and lends to the accountability that we have before our people.”

Bishop Thomas said the diocese is working to update information on allegations of sexual abuse against minors that appear on the diocesan website. It currently indicates that allegations have been made against 46 clerics for the period between 1950 and 2012, and Bishop Thomas said that only one substantiated allegation has been received since 2012.

The Rev. Samuel Punnoor was suspended and then sent to his home diocese in India in 2015, at the recommendation of a diocesan review board. That allegation was first pursued by law enforcement, Bishop Thomas said, in line with diocesan policy; a Lucas County Children Services investigation found no actions meeting the statutory definition of sexual abuse.

The grand jury report in Pennsylvania has prompted calls for attorneys general in other states to launch similar investigations, and should Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announce such an investigation, Bishop Thomas said he would work with investigators. Upon request, he would make accessible diocesan archives.

“We would be immediately open to make every effort to do whatever prosecution or law enforcement requires,” he said. “We would cooperate fully. We would be transparent and open and hope that whatever any investigation produces, that they would produce that as a result of our complete cooperation.”

Mr. DeWine’s spokesman, Dan Tierney, said in a statement that any such inquiry would need to start locally because Ohio is a home-rule state.

“As a result, the AG would need a request from a local prosecutor to empanel a grand jury such as the one used in the Pennsylvania investigation,” he said. “To date, we have never been requested by any local authority to empanel such an investigative grand jury or to open any such criminal investigation on this matter.”

Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said her office would take action only if there are new allegations that have not been previously reported.

“We looked at everything we could look ... when this first broke,” she said, referring to a period in the early 2000s when several Toledo-area priests were accused of sexual abuse. “We prosecuted everything that we could prosecute. For most of those crimes, the statute of limitations has run.”

Bishop Thomas also said he would support an extension of the statute of limitations, so long as the applicable window goes beyond the Catholic Church and does not “discriminate against any victims or survivors of any public institutions.”

Dioceses around the country have had policies in place toward the protection of children since at least 2002, when the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops adopted a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The Diocese of Toledo most recently updated its charter earlier this year, adding to it Standards of Behavior and Boundaries and Guidelines for the Prevention of Abuse of Vulnerable Adults.

Bishop Thomas said it was found in compliance of the charter under its most recent independent audit and anticipates another in October.

Staff writer Lauren Lindstrom contributed.

Contact Nicki Gorny at: ngorny@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.

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