Attorney general given diocese files to review abuse claims

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island's attorney general announced Tuesday that he has gained access to nearly 70 years of records from the Diocese of Providence for his review of allegations of sexual abuse by clergy.

The Roman Catholic diocese earlier this month released a list of 50 clerics, religious order priests and deacons it deems to have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children, dating to 1950.

Democrat Peter Neronha said the diocese voluntarily agreed to a new memorandum of understanding to give his office and the Rhode Island State Police access to all complaints since 1950, whether deemed credible by the diocese or not.

Bishop Thomas Tobin said in a statement that he welcomes the opportunity to continue cooperating with the attorney general and state police.

"It also affirms our longstanding commitment to transparency and accountability in dealing with clergy sexual abuse of minors," he said.

Neronha has said he's trying to figure out what happened, what the response was and whether anyone can be held responsible. The goal of the review is to identify any prosecutable cases, ensure there are no clergy credibly accused of abuse in the active ministry, and provide input to improve the diocese's current policies for preventing and responding to child sexual abuse.

"While this voluntary, additional disclosure by the diocese is an important step forward in our review, much additional work remains," Neronha said in a statement Tuesday. "We will not hesitate to take any additional steps that may prove necessary to fully determine the scope of misconduct here and take appropriate action."

Rhode Island is one of the most heavily Catholic states. The diocese began voluntarily sharing abuse allegations with the attorney general's office in 2016. Neronha said the new memorandum expands on the 2016 agreement, by providing fuller access to historical records.

The diocese will begin providing the files within five days.

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