Bishop apologizes for breakdown in procedure - Catholic Courier

Bishop apologizes for breakdown in procedure

Bishop Matthew H. Clark apologized March 18 for the Diocese of Rochester’s failure to adequately monitor implementation of a church-affiliated treatment center’s recommendations regarding Father Michael J. Volino.

In 2002 the diocese had requested that Father Volino undergo an assessment at St. Luke Institute in Silver Springs, Md., for behavioral issues related to maturity, not sexual abuse. A subsequent report said the priest should not have unsupervised contact or ministry with minors, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Feldman said during court proceedings March 14.

“I’m just very sorry for the pain all of us experienced because we had this (procedural) breakdown,” Bishop Clark said.

Father Volino, parochial vicar at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Greece, is facing federal charges of receiving and possession of Internet child pornography. Federal and diocesan officials have both emphasized that no allegations of sexual abuse have been made against the priest. The diocese placed Father Volino on administrative leave earlier this month, pending disposition of the charges against him.

On March 18, Bishop Clark noted that the diocese sought an assessment from St. Luke because of concerns that “Father (Volino) was not relating fully and adequately with adults.”

“We were just concerned for his own development and maturity,” Bishop Clark said.

St. Luke treats women and men religious, clergy and others involved in church ministry for a variety of conditions, including alcoholism, drug abuse and a range of sexual problems.

The bishop said the diocese may have incorrectly assessed the recommendations from St. Luke, and that the diocese was looking to use a “qualified intermediary” in the future to interpret reports of this nature.

“It seems to me that what we have here is a failure of the system,” the bishop said.

The bishop’s comments came a few days after Father Volino’s March 14 appearance in federal court for proceedings related to the pornography charges. Feldman ordered the priest to be confined under house arrest in an Elmira monastery until his April 12 preliminary hearing. The judge said he based his decision on the recommendations contained in the St. Luke report.

In a written statement, the diocese said “the recommendations of St. Luke’s staff were not issued in the context of a person who was sexually abusive.”

Bishop Clark celebrated Mass with St. John the Evangelist parishioners on March 13 and told the congregation that anyone with concerns or allegations of sexual misconduct by any diocesan employee or volunteer should contact the diocese.

When asked March 18 why the diocese hadn’t prohibited Father Volino from having contact with minors subsequent to the St. Luke report, Bishop Clark reiterated that there had never been allegations of sexual abuse against the priest.

“No more can you execute summary judgment in civil court than you can in the life of the church,” Bishop Clark said. “You would be punishing a man for possibilities.”

The bishop also said that, to the best of his knowledge, there was always at least one other adult with Father Volino when he was with minors. However, he added that he could not say for certain that was always the case. Bishop Clark also said the diocese eventually would issue a report about the case and take measures to ensure that whatever missteps were made in Father Volino’s case would not be repeated if similar situations were to arise in the future.

Bishop Clark also noted that the diocese has made substantial progress in recent years in preventing the abuse of minors, and that he didn’t want Catholics in the diocese to be disheartened by recent reports.

“We’re talking about a very painful and unfortunate breakdown, but I’d like people to know that it is in the context of very positive things going on,” the bishop said. He noted, for example, that all church employees must undergo extensive training to learn what sexual abuse is and how to prevent it.

According to Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Michael Preisser’s affidavit in support of the federal complaint against Father Volino, while servicing the priest’s computer in January, a diocesan Information Technology employee discovered what the employee “thought to be child pornography in the temporary Internet files of the computer.” The employee informed his supervisor, and the diocese subsequently contacted the authorities, Preisser’s affidavit states. The FBI seized the computer and interviewed Father Volino in early February, according to the affidavit.

Bishop Clark pointed out that diocesan officials contacted authorities as soon as they had cause for concern.

Preisser’s affidavit alleges that Father Volino told the FBI that he had, for approximately three years, been seeking professional help for sexual issues; that he continued to view Internet pornography while he was in counseling; that he knew it was wrong to do so; and that “he would never take his fixation to the level of touching underage boys.”

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