Archdiocese faces questions over accused New York priest

New York City, N.Y., Dec 21, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of New York is facing questions about the sequence of events which led to the recent removal from ministry of one of its retired priests, Fr. Donald Timone. Fr. Timone is accused of sexually abusing two teenage boys during the late 1960s and early 1970s.


In a story published by the New York Times on Dec. 20, it was reported that Timone was allowed to continue to publicly minister as a priest despite allegations first being made against him in 2003 and an independent commission paying compensation to two of Timone’s alleged victims last year.


The awards were made by the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), a body established by Cardinal Timothy Dolan in 2016 to compensate victims of clerical sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of New York.


Timone, 84, retired from full-time ministry in 2009 but has continued to say Mass in parishes and a Catholic university.


Initial media coverage of the case suggested that the handling of the allegations against Timone showed a failure in archdiocesan procedures. But a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York told CNA that the Timone case was “an example of the effectiveness of the Church’s procedures” and that the archdiocese had removed Fr. Timone from ministry in 2003 when the first allegation against him was received, and again this month following new complaints and more information becoming available.


“Sixteen years ago, after conducting their own investigation, the Dutchess County District Attorney referred to the Archdiocese of New York an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor made against Fr. Timone,” Joseph Zwilling told CNA.


“As is our protocol,” Zwilling explained, “Fr. Timone was removed from ministry, the allegation carefully investigated, and the entire matter turned over to our Review Board. They determined, after studying the case and interviewing both the person bringing the allegation and Fr. Timone, that the allegation was not substantiated. Thus, Fr. Timone was returned to ministry.”


Speaking to sources in the Archdiocese of New York, CNA was told that the 2003 allegation included the names of two other potential victims, but that neither of these responded when approached by the archdiocese.


The alleged victim committed suicide in 2015, following battles with addiction. He published a memoir in 2006 in which he detailed his alleged abuse but only named Timone as “Fr. X.”


In 2017, the IRCP awarded compensation for a claim submitted by the accuser’s widow, as well as to another alleged victim of Timone – both settlements were reported by the New York Times to be in excess of $100,000.


Controversy over the case has centered on how Timone’s apparent victims could be compensated by the IRCP while he was allowed to continue ministering as a priest during his retirement, both in New York and California where he spends part of the year.


Zwilling told CNA that the IRCP was set up to be a truly independent body and, as such, it applied its own standards to handling cases and there was no automatic mechanism to forward information between it and the archdiocese.


“Because it is a compensation program, not a legal one, it has a different standard of proof and review. The original complaint about Fr. Timone [found unsubstantiated by the Archdiocesan Review Board] was brought to the IRCP and in the course of its investigation new information came to light,” Zwilling said. He told CNA that, following the IRCP decision to make the award, the archdiocese asked the Review Board to re-examine the case, and that it had begun doing so in the Fall of 2018.


The second accuser compensated by the IRCP in 2017, quoted but unnamed by the New York Times, said that he had made allegations against Timone directly to the archdiocese in 2002.


The Archdiocese of New York declined to comment on this second accuser. “When the IRCP was set up by Cardinal Dolan in 2016, a commitment was made that the archdiocese would never do or say anything that could even inadvertently lead to the disclosure of a potential victims identity,” Zwilling said.


“At the risk of that happening, the archdiocese can’t comment on an allegation supposedly made in 2002, who might have made it, or under what circumstances.”


Zwilling did confirm to CNA that although the Archdiocesan Review Board had reopened  Timone’s case at least by October of 2018, his priestly faculties had only been limited earlier this month, ahead of his scheduled departure for California.


Christine Rousselle contributed to this report.

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