A Guide to Exploring a Priest's Assignment Record
in the Official Catholic Directory and Other Sources
The basic source for establishing the assignment record
of an accused or convicted priest is the Official Catholic Directory,
which offers annual assignment information for diocesan and order
priests. A "centralized hierarchical organization with a solid
bureaucratic tradition," in Philip Jenkins's words, makes it
easier to track the assignments of priests. But that same organization
has a highly developed system of euphemism and evasion about these
matters. So the Official Catholic Directory must be supplemented
from other sources in order to develop the complete record of an
accused or convicted priest. In this guide (see below), we show
how some very important histories are revealed and concealed in
the pages of the Official Catholic Directory.
Heartbreaking and important stories are contained in the Official
Catholic Directory, but the books themselves are dry and difficult
to work with. To make it easier for you to get used to them, we have written
this guide around little stories that are good illustrations of the uses
and problems of the Official Catholic Directory. In front of
those stories is a step-by-step description of the research process.
1. How to Create
a Assignment Record in a Few Easy Steps
2. Last Year at
St. Anthony's: Looking Up a Priest in the Official Catholic Directory
2a. Are There
Gaps in the Parish Records of the Official Catholic Directory?
3. Parish School
and Festival: Transfers in the Official Catholic Directory
Priests: Background in the Official Catholic Directory
Burial Grounds: Retirement and Death in the Official Catholic Directory
6. Heal the Sick:
Chaplains and Treatment in the Official Catholic Directory
The Official Catholic Directory has been published every year
since 1817. It lists the assignments of every diocesan and order priest,
as well as their role (if any) in the hierarchy. By tracking an accused
or convicted priest through the Official Catholic Directory,
we can locate the parishes or other institutions where he worked, thereby
identifying vulnerable populations. By cross-checking his record with
diocesan documents or other reports of abuse, we can also assess the transfer
policies of his bishop(s).
The Official Catholic Directory does not report directly on visits
to treatment centers, suspensions, removal of faculties, or laicizations.
But the record-keeping system of U.S. Catholicism has forced bishops to
use certain proxies for these actions in their Official Catholic Directory
entries each year. So a priest who is on sick leave, or who drops out
of the Official Catholic Directory for a year, or is "in
residence" at a parish, or vanishes from the Official Catholic
Directory instead of explicitly retiring, is a priest who might have
an abuse problem. It is important to recognize that alcoholism and other
personal problems, sometimes unrelated to sexual abuse, can also be reflected
in gaps and other peculiarities in the Official Catholic Directory.
We can often fill out the picture we get from the Official Catholic
Directory by consulting released diocesan files, obituaries, parish
monuments, and the like.
This guide was created with two purposes in mind. First, to help volunteers
and other interested persons who want to use the Official Catholic
Directory to track an accused or convicted priest. Second, to show
everyone the vivid stories of accused and convicted priests, transferred
by their bishops as a way of concealing their behavior.
Every Catholic should heft a volume of the Official Catholic Directory
and look up an abusive priest. It is a sobering experience. Each
huge volume contains (but never identifies as such) thousands of abusers
and hundreds of complicit bishops, as well as thousands of priests who
were aware of abusers but said nothing. But the Official Catholic
Directory also contains many thousands of blameless priests. It lists
thousands of parishes that are spiritual homes to millions of Catholics.
And it also lists thousands of hospitals and other good works.
How can such valuable work be purged of sexual abuse's pervasive presence?
Not by continued secrecy and damage control. The staff at BishopAccountability.org
urges the U.S. bishops to publish detailed service records with treatment
episodes and accusation dates for every abuser. In the meantime, we are
undertaking this work ourselves.