Print Edition: Feb. 22, 2015
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Cardinal O'Malley embraces viral communication in the Internet Age
BY JOAN FRAWLEY DESMOND
BOSTON — The Archdiocese of Boston today posted an online database of priests and deacons accused of the sexual abuse of minors, a landmark decision that signaled Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s ongoing effort to break with the practices of episcopal negligence and secrecy that produced the 2002 scandal, forcing the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, his predecessor.
“In total, 159 names of accused clerics of the Boston Archdiocese are included on the lists being published today. Of these, 22 represent cases that are still in process canonically, with the priest on administrative leave and having no public ministry. It is my wish and goal that these remaining cases be processed as expeditiously as possible. At the conclusion of those cases, additional announcements and amendments to the list will be made accordingly,” stated Cardinal O’Malley in his letter released Aug. 25.
The cardinal outlined the criteria used to include — or exclude — accused priests from the public listing, underscoring the complexity of establishing guilt in historical cases, which may date back decades, only to surface after the death of the accused.
The new website is likely to provoke controversy with some victim groups insisting that it does not go far enough, while advocates for due process for accused priests may challenge the decision to include deceased priests and those whose cases have not been fully adjudicated.
For several years, victim groups and plaintiff attorneys in Boston have called for such a list, and Cardinal O’Malley had signaled his desire to provide a centralized, accessible database of priests with credible accusation.
Father Richard Erikson, vicar general and moderator of the Curia for the Boston Archdiocese, said that the delay underscored the difficulty of compiling such a list with a high standard of accuracy and fairness.
Asked whether the list includes the names of priests who had not previously appeared in archdiocesan announcements, Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the archdiocese, noted that the list incorporated public information from a variety of Church, media and clergy-abuse websites.
“It is possible that there are some names here that were not subject of a press release, probably not many,” said Donilon.
In the wake of the 2002 Dallas Charter, the U.S. bishops have sought to facilitate public reporting of abuse allegations. Approximately 30 other dioceses have generated some kind of public list. Some lists are not routinely updated, and others have been dismantled; several independent national online websites also provide such information.
“The Dallas Charter is silent on whether or not those names should be posted. We go with the charter’s standard of ‘open and transparent.’ To some that means posting a listing,” said Mary Jane Doerr, associate director of the Secretariat for Child and Youth at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“The problem that others have with these listings is that if you are naming dead people who can’t defend themselves it seems ‘un-American,’” she added. “There is also concern about the range of behavior included, from criminal sexual conduct to someone consistently bending personal boundaries, leading to his removal.”
In a five-page letter that addressed a range of complex issues — from grappling with the definition of “credibly accused” to posting the names of deceased priests who could not defend their reputations, the cardinal offered his personal deliberations and consultations with archdiocesan leaders, priests and victims as a humble work of penitence.
The cardinal acknowledged the debate regarding “the due-process concerns of those whose guilt has not been established. In the present environment, a priest who is accused of sexually abusing a minor may never be able to fully restore his reputation, even if cleared after civil or canonical proceedings. Reputational concerns also become acute in cases concerning deceased priests, who are often accused years after their death, with no opportunity to address the accusations against them.”
The letter presented the policy of heightened transparency as a model for other dioceses and religious orders. The listing does not include accused priests who are not under the cardinal’s authority. However, the cardinal’s letter stated that the archdiocese reports accusations involving such priests to both the appropriate religious authority and local law enforcement and places the accused on administrative leave.
“To put this information in context, there have been to date a total of 250 clerics of the Boston Archdiocese accused of sexually abusing a minor,” Cardinal O’Malley stated. “There are 91 names that are not being included on the lists published today, which can be summarized as follows: 62 names of deceased clergy as to whom canonical proceedings were never conducted or completed and who have not been publicly accused; 22 priests of the Boston Archdiocese as to whom the accusations of misconduct with a minor could not be substantiated; 4 priests or former priests of the archdiocese who are not in active ministry and are the subject of a preliminary investigation; and 3 priests who were already laicized or dismissed by the time they were accused and who have not been publicly accused.”
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