Runaway Priests Hiding in Plain Sight
The Dallas Morning News
June 21, 2004
Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing children are hiding abroad and working in church ministries, The Dallas Morning News has found.
From Africa to Latin America to Europe to Asia, these priests have started new lives in unsuspecting communities, often with the help of church officials. They are leading parishes, teaching and continuing to work in settings that bring them into contact with children, despite church claims to the contrary.
The global movement has gone largely unnoticed -- even after an abuse scandal swept the U.S. Catholic Church in 2002, forcing bishops to adopt a "zero tolerance" policy and drawing international attention.
Starting this week and continuing in coming months, we report the results of a yearlong investigation that reaches all six occupied continents. Key findings include: Nearly half of the more than 200 cases we identified involve clergy who tried to elude law enforcement. About 30 remain free in one country while facing ongoing criminal inquiries, arrest warrants or convictions in another.
Most runaway priests remain in the church, the world's largest organization, so they should be easier to locate than other fugitives.
Instead, Catholic leaders have used international transfers to thwart justice, a practice that poses far greater challenges to law enforcement than the domestic moves exposed in the 2002 scandal.
Police and prosecutors, however, often fail to take basic steps to catch fugitive priests.
Church discipline, such as the U.S. bishops' new policy, doesn't keep all offenders out of ministry. Dozens of priests who are no longer eligible to work in this country have found sanctuary abroad.
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