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The diocese of Lake Charles in southwest Louisiana published its list of abuser priests in April 2019, its neighboring diocese Lafayette posted its updated list a day later, and the diocese of Jefferson City, Mo., released its list in November 2018. Before that, the Wilmington diocese in Delaware had posted one list voluntarily, in 2006, and another in 2012 under orders from a bankruptcy court.
What do these lists have in common? In addition to a sad record of abuse, they exhibit one or more of the flaws that mark so many postings: names are missing; full assignments are not detailed; the later history of priests who were moved to other dioceses is omitted.
To date, per BishopAccountability.org, which tracks reports of clergy abuse, 133 dioceses and 18 religious organizations have posted lists of priests credibly accused of abuse. Unfortunately, for many of the postings, follow-up reports by others illuminate flaws in the official diocesan lists.
The follow-ups typically come from organizations like SNAP and BishopAccountability, from local media, and sometimes from survivors themselves who know at a glance when dates are wrong, abusers are unnamed, or their abuser was listed in another diocese in different cases.
Thus, in Columbia, Mo., this past week, SNAP’s David Clohessy—with support from VOTF member Bob Heinz—gave the media names of four priests who had served in the Jefferson City diocese but were accused of abuse elsewhere. Also missing from the diocese’s list were the dates of assignments for each priest. Both are important because it is unlikely that the abuser acted in only one parish and no others. Often it is the later assignments where someone, finally, takes action.
Missing assignment dates, along with other omissions, also characterized the list posted by the diocese of Lake Charles. The local newspaper posted an article by theBaton Rouge Advocate detailing what it called a lack of transparency: dates shown for first reports of abuse were years later than the actual first reports; assignments were omitted; the actions of chancery officials to move a priest “far away” to avoid encountering accusers were omitted.
Similar details had been reported by the Lafayette Daily Advertiser for the Lafayette Diocese’s list. The Lafayette Diocese listing included assignments and dates in its posting, and a pledge to add the name of any abuser it learns about in the future, whether living or dead. It also included names of a few priests from the Lake Charles Diocese, because the latter had been carved out of the Lafayette Diocese in 1980. Neither diocese, however, reported that one such priest was sent, with endorsement as a priest “in good standing,” to the diocese of Wilmington, Del., after numerous abuse accusations had already surfaced. That information was left to TV station KATC to report. Indeed, the same priest turned up in the Wilmington Diocese’s list of accused priests, and it was left to that diocese to finally remove him from ministry.
It’s not easy tracking down records from decades back, especially when so many preceding bishops and chancery officials took care to maintain secret files and avoid any actions that would validate potential legal proceedings. Nor is it a comfortable task for bishops and other Church officials to make plain the malfeasance of predecessors who covered up abuse or were themselves guilty of abuse.
Had the Church and its bishops chosen support for survivors from the start and removed all abuser priests from ministry, this lengthy and painful revelation case by case by case would not be essential.
But it is essential now. All dioceses should do their utmost to ensure that their lists are complete, that they include all assignments, and that they provide details about the nature of the abuse and the number of charges.
If media can find the information, so can dioceses. Dioceses with inadequate lists should repair them—preferably before relying on the media to do the legwork.