The Catholic Church’s attempt to undo the damage done by decades of priestly abuse would be greatly enhanced by a comprehensive, transparent, and easy-to-use national list of abusive clerics. And no, it still doesn’t exist.
Two years ago, many dioceses – but not all – began publishing lists of priests “credibly accused” of abusive behavior. But these are too often incomplete, as well as difficult to find and use.
“There are many more names than ever before,” said David Clohessy of the Priest Abused Survivors Network, or SNAP. “Is it close to the totals?” Absolutely not. … The bishops always have, and continue, to disseminate as little information as possible. “
The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, for example, published a list of “substantiated abuse allegations” against nearly two dozen clerics. Yet the list lacks photographs of offenders, or complete work histories, or the names of any secular offenders.
Other dioceses provide this essential information. A complete list would better inform the community.
More fundamentally, the Church’s decision to allow each diocese to decide for itself how to compile and publish abuse lists virtually guarantees that they will be incomplete and confusing. A church member, or victim of abuse, seeking information about a priest must sort through dozens of lists in different jurisdictions, all using different standards.
“Each diocesan bishop makes the decision whether or not to publish a list of accused clerics credibly,” said a statement from Ashlie Hand, speaking on behalf of Kansas City-St. diocese of Joseph.
“This decision is based on multiple factors informed by each bishop’s advisers and state laws that impact the consequences of the level of detail shared,” she said.
Private groups stepped forward to aggregate the information as best they could. Over a year ago, ProPublica published a searchable database on abusive priests, pulling information from published diocesan lists and other documents.
“The list is not a government-run sex offender registry,” ProPublica said on the database’s release, “but it does raise important questions about men, such as their location, access to minors or vulnerable adults, and whether or not they can be realistically and adequately supervised.
But the Catholic Church itself has failed to bring together all the information it has in one place, for easy use and consultation by the public.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has long said it did not produce a complete list due to different state laws. “The decision of whether and how best to publish the lists and comply with the various civil reporting laws has been the responsibility of individual dioceses,” USCCB spokesperson Chieko Noguchi said last year. .
Clohessy is not convinced. “If they really want to protect the children, and really care for the victims, and really want the trust of their herd, why don’t they publish a national list? He asked.
This is a valid question.
This is not about punishing the Catholic Church or extending the crisis of clergy abuse. The church – or any organization with a similar record of ignorance and cover-up of predatory behavior – will only find absolution after full transparency.
For Catholics, nothing can be more important than to fully face the long history of clergy abuse and to demand full transparency and accountability from church leaders today.
A national clearinghouse and database, compiled and published by the Catholic Church itself, would be a good step in this direction.