Why Lists Matter
I read a LOT of news about the abuse crisis and try to share some of the most significant developments on the In Spirit and Truth Facebook page, to help everyone be more informed about what's going on.
However, I realized recently that I rarely share articles about lists of accused priests being published or updated by dioceses. For me, the pattern has become familiar over the last year: A diocese promises to release a list; it takes longer than some people would like; the diocese publishes the list; there is heavy news coverage and many dismayed reactions when the names are revealed; advocates point out names that are missing; new names are added.
Whether it's Texas or Virginia or Wyoming, the process seems to be about the same, so I haven’t been sharing these news updates. But I realize that most people do not spend hours every day reading about this topic, so many might not be aware of this ongoing progress in the fight for transparency.
Yes, this is progress. It might be slow and incomplete, but every time a diocese publishes a list of priests who are credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor it moves us forward, just a little. Even if that list is missing names, even if advocates have to call press conferences and hold rallies to draw attention to omissions, the publication of a list marks a step forward. Another important step forward is taken when a diocese expands their list based on the testimonies of survivors.
To give you a sense of what’s been happening, here are a few updates from just the last month:
The Diocese of Providence released a list of 50 names of priests that have been credibly accused since 1950
The Diocese of Richmond added 6 names to the list they released in February 2019.
The Diocese of Cleveland added 22 names to a list they have maintained since 2002.
The Diocese of Baton Rouge added 2 names, priests who were credibly accused when serving in other dioceses, to the initial list they released in January 2019.
St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere, Wisconsin released a list of 19 names of Norbertine priests credibly accused since 1966.
Just last week, the Archdiocese of Saint Louis released a list of 61 names of priests accused of abuse of a minor, along with 3 priests who were found in possession of child pornography.
According to a very-comprehensive page created by BishopAccountability.org, 135 dioceses and 18 religious order provinces have released a list of names as of July 30, 2019, a marked increase over the past year. Seventeen years after the Dallas Charter, there finally seems to be a sense of agreement among United States bishops that publishing a list of accused priests is a non-negotiable “best practice.” With 198 “particular churches” in the United States (that includes archdioceses, dioceses, Eastern rite eparchies, and several other unique situations), we’re not to 100% just yet, but we certainly seem to be heading in that direction.
However, all lists are not created equal. A few key points:
There are no nationwide standards for evaluating which names belong on “the list,” so different dioceses are using different standards for determining which priests are “credibly accused” or have a “substantiated accusation” against them.
I agree with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests that to be useful, these lists need to include more than just names. At a minimum, diocesan lists should include: the current status of each priest (deceased, laicized, etc.); year of ordination; a list of allegations, what years they were made, and what action was taken at the time; the complete assignment history of the priests. I find the information released by the San Jose Diocese a good model. As a result of our contentious bankruptcy proceedings, my own local church, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, has one of the most in-depth lists, including extensive documentation for each accused priest. (For an eye-opening look at the history of clerical abuse and the internal processes for “handling” it over the years, just click the name of any of the accused priests and read the letters, internal memos, and handwritten notes from diocesan files. It is truly a sobering experience.)
There is also no universal agreement about whether to include “religious priests” on diocesan lists. These priests are members of religious orders like the Jesuits or Franciscans, and therefore not technically under the direct responsibility of the bishop of a diocese. However, they often make up a significant portion of the priests ministering within a diocese. Priests from other areas who worked in a diocese temporarily are also left off of many diocesan lists. (Attorney Jeff Anderson and other lawyers have often used these cases to accuse dioceses of omitting many priests from official lists.)
While there are limitations to many of the lists being published, we have to start somewhere; every diocese that releases a list creates another opportunity for transparency - and a starting place for continued advocacy.
If you would like to know if your diocese has released a list of credibly accused priests, check your diocesan website or the comprehensive list compiled at BishopAccountability.org.
If no list has been published, do a little research to find out if plans to release a list have been announced. If you can’t find any public statements from your bishop promising to release a list, please write a letter or make a phone call asking your bishop to do so.
If a list has been published but lacks important details like those I mentioned above, contact your bishop asking for more detail to be included.
Obviously, these lists are only one part of a much larger picture of needed changes, but our advocacy can help each diocese move in the right direction.
Yes, the truth is painful and ugly, but the truth will also set us free.
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
- John 8:31-32
Please Lord, set us free.