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  Bishops Wrestle with Identifying Priests Accused Long Ago

By Bruce Nolan
Times-Picayune [New Orleans LA]
March 14, 2004

When the Archdiocese of New Orleans disclosed for first time this past week that two years ago it relieved the Rev. Carl Davidson of his ministry for allegedly sexually abusing a minor, it touched on a matter of enormous sensitivity to victims, working priests and parents: whether to release the names of priests accused of abuse years ago.

The question of a relevant time element pits virtues of frankness and outreach to still-hidden victims against issues of fairness, particularly with respect to dead or infirm priests who cannot defend themselves.

It also strains the fraternal bonds between bishops and their conflicted working priests, who wince at every new wound that fresh disclosures about other priests inflict on their ministries, even as they grieve for victims.

All of the 195 Catholic dioceses in America operate under new transparency policies that promise to disclose from now on when a priest is relieved of duty. But virtually all dioceses, including New Orleans, draw the line at releasing the names of past abusers. Identifying Davidson appears to be a singular exception.

However, a handful of dioceses have begun posting the names of accused priests from church archives, believing it will encourage any unidentified victims to step forward and ask for help.

No national policy offers bishops guidance on whether to identify sexually abusive priests who came to their attention five, 10 or 20 years ago. Bishops promise that all are now out of ministry, and that many are retired or dead.

Whether to release their names is purely within the discretion of each bishop, and many are grappling with that now, said Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Drawing a line

In New Orleans, Archbishop Alfred Hughes has pledged to identify henceforth every active or retired diocesan priest whose privileges he restricts because of a credible charge of sexual abuse of a minor, said the Rev. William Maestri, Hughes' spokesman.

Hughes will not, however, identify newly accused priests if they are deceased, Maestri said.

Nor will the church in New Orleans release the names of dead, retired or inactive diocesan priests who were credibly accused between 1950 and the summer of 2002, when the archdiocese began operating under the pledges contained in the Charter for the Protection of Young People, Maestri said.

The charter does not "require us to go back retrospectively and make those people known," he said.

Religious order priests, meanwhile, fall under the jurisdiction of their own superiors, who follow their own disclosure policies. Like their diocesan counterparts, it appears that few, if any, have published lists of previously accused priests from their files.

The New Orleans archdiocese has said that two deacons and eight diocesan priests have been credibly accused since 1950.

It has identified neither of the deacons and three of the eight priests: Davidson, a musician and accompanist for the St. Louis Cathedral boy choir; the Rev. Michael Fraser, who was pastor of Our Lady of Visitation Parish until he was relieved of ministry in January; and Bernard Schmaltz, who retired from the priesthood in 1993 and now lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Davidson has been unavailable for comment since his name surfaced. Fraser and Schmaltz have denied the accusations.

Of the remaining five, two have been identified in news reports over the years: the Revs. Patrick Keane and John Sax, who both admitted to molesting young people. Only Sax remains a priest, living in an undisclosed location without priestly duties, according to the archdiocese.

The Rev. Dino Cinel, a priest and former Tulane University faculty member whose videotaped sexual activities with a teenager made headlines in 1991, is not on the list because it was not clear he was involved with a minor, Maestri said.

Reopening old cases

Last month, a blue-ribbon civilian panel led by Washington lawyer Robert Bennett urged the church to the greatest possible forthrightness in dealing with the faithful on matters of abuse. But his panel but did not recommend that bishops disclose names from their archives.

Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore made history of sorts when he published almost 60 names of previously accused priests not long after the charter's adoption in 2002.

More recently, Cardinal Roger Mahony in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Bishop Gerald Kicanas in the Diocese of Tucson, Ariz., have posted the archived names of accused priests on the Internet. The Tucson list includes their assignments over the years.

Baltimore, Los Angeles and Tucson appear to be the only three among 195 dioceses that have taken such steps.

Each community did it in the interest of restoring trust with local Catholics, officials said.

Victims support groups have long pushed for disclosing the names of all abusive priests.

Because child abuse is a crime of secrecy, victims often believe that they were the only ones a particular person ever victimized. Moreover, they remain intimidated for years by the notion that they would be the first to bring a complaint against a popular or charismatic priest, victims advocates say.

"It was our hope that in addition to re-establishing a bond of trust, there was the additional goal that that it would in fact lead to more victims coming forward," said Sean Caine, Baltimore's communications director.

Although Caine said it's hard to say whether publishing the list was the catalyst, "since the disclosure, we received an additional 63 calls from victims," he said.

In the absence of any church-sponsored database of names, efforts have been made by plaintiffs attorneys, victims groups and a few news organizations to compile private databases using data from diverse public sources.

The largest accessible list is an Internet database of 2,080 names, searchable by diocese and by name of priest, and constantly updated by Survivors First, a victims advocacy group in Natick, Mass.

The group's list for the Archdiocese of New Orleans contains one obvious error: the Rev. Terry Hayden, whose resignation is reported in the database, remains a priest in good standing.

"It's turned out to be a very useful list," said Terry McKiernan, a freelance editor who helps maintain it.

"With bishops themselves not willing to name names, often our list is the place a survivor will go when he's ready to come forward," he said. "They discover that they are by no means the only accusation, and that can be important in summoning the courage to come forward."

'Painful work'

In New Orleans, Hughes has elected not to publish archived names. Getting to that decision meant weighing competing values, Maestri said.

In a few cases, victims are so protective of their anonymity that they don't even want the offending priest's name published, much less their own, he said. In a few other cases, continuing canonical or civil litigation may be jeopardized.

But more broadly, Maestri said, "There are peoples' lives involved here, on both sides of the equation. . . . All these people have family. All of these people have friends. We're in a very delicate position of having to try to balance these considerations and concerns in as just and compassionate a way as we can.

"This is very, very, very painful work, because of the lives involved on both sides of the equation."

The reality of victims' suffering must always be "the primary focus," he said. "At the same time, as Catholics and as Christians, we are not indifferent to the suffering, the flaws and limitations" of the priests involved, he said.

"We have to balance those. But at the end of the day, . . . we have to come down on doing what is right for the victim."

The archdiocese believes it has done that, he said.

Certainly, publishing lists of all abusive priests pains bishops, whose relationships to their priests is not merely employer-employee, but also both paternal and fraternal.

While sources in Los Angeles and Baltimore stressed that priests' organizations were consulted extensively before the decision to publish, Keeler's decision in Baltimore caused "great pain" among his rank-and-file priests, Caine said.

In New Orleans, Monsignor Andrew Taormina of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Metairie, chairman of the archdiocesan Priests' Council, declined to talk about priests' views here, saying he would want to consult his colleagues on such a sensitive matter.

Without trying to articulate how the archdiocese's priests would come down on the question, Maestri spoke generally about priests' sense of fraternal solidarity and their sensitivity to victims.

"No priest stands by himself in good or in bad," he said. "We're all affected for good or bad. What happens to one priest affects all priests. So there is this feeling of collective or shared burden that comes with these kinds of allegations."

That said, he added, "We all want to be better priests, we want to be holier and more dedicated priests, because this is the way we must respond to this particular scandal. . . . Priests do not want people victimized.

"I think that at the end of the day, when priests consider what the charter is calling us to, . . . I think that through this painful process, we will see a better day."

 
 

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