Catholic churches have shielded at least 900 priests from their own released lists of clergy members who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing young kids, according to an Associated Press investigation.
That is to say, when the Catholic Church offered up the names of priests and other leaders who had been accused of wrongdoing, they left off the names of people we now know have plenty of serious blemishes on their records.
Most recently, for example, we reported on the Catholic Diocese of Lansing in Michigan, which disclosed the names of 17 priests who had been “credibly accused of abusing a minor.” That list stretched all the way back to 1937, but it still wasn’t complete, according to the AP.
Richard J. Poster served time for possessing child pornography, violated his probation by having contact with children, admitted masturbating in the bushes near a church school and in 2005 was put on a sex offender registry. And yet the former Catholic priest was only just this month added to a list of clergy members credibly accused of child sexual abuse — after The Associated Press asked why he was not included.
An AP analysis found more than 900 clergy members accused of child sexual abuse who were missing from lists released by the dioceses and religious orders where they served.
The AP reached that number by matching those public diocesan lists against a database of accused priests tracked by the group BishopAccountability.org and then scouring bankruptcy documents, lawsuits, settlement information, grand jury reports and media accounts.
This is the worst-case scenario, and the sad thing is that it’s not even a surprise at this point. Did anyone expect the Church to confess all its sins? This is a serious problem, though. It’s not as though these churches just left off unverified, minor accusations that they simply felt weren’t important. Meanwhile, other dioceses haven’t released lists at all.
More than a hundred of the former clergy members not listed by dioceses or religious orders had been charged with sexual crimes, including rape, solicitation and receiving or viewing child pornography.
On top of that, the AP found another nearly 400 priests and clergy members who were accused of abuse while serving in dioceses that have not yet released any names.
“No one should think, ‘Oh, the bishops are releasing their lists, there’s nothing left to do,’” said Terence McKiernan, co-founder of BishopAccountability.org, who has been tracking the abuse crisis and cataloging accused priests for almost two decades, accumulating a database of thousands of priests.
McKiernan is right. This isn’t the end of holding churches accountable for their actions; it is just the beginning. And what the Church shows us, over and over, is that they can’t be trusted to police themselves. In this case, as before, it took multiple journalists to bring these cases to light. In other cases, it’s state attorneys general doing the word. But it’s not the Catholic Church. It never is.
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