San Jose diocese to investigate handling of priest abuse, name names
By John Woofolk
September 13, 2018
|Bishop Patrick J. McGrath blesses the altar during a Mass commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. |
Photo by Jim Gensheimer
The Diocese of San Jose said Thursday it will launch an independent investigation into clergy sexual abuse and name priests credibly accused of abusing children as part of a diocesan effort to confront a scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic church around the world.
The extraordinary announcement — the first pledge to go public from a Bay Area diocese — came in a statement to parishioners from Bishop Patrick J. McGrath, who also said the diocese had hired a former FBI official to review how church leaders have handled past abuse complaints.
“Recent revelations of the horrific and heartbreaking crime of the sexual abuse of minors by priests — and the systematic cover-up by bishops — have fueled a crisis, unprecedented in modern times, in the Catholic Church,” McGrath said in the statement. “There is a need for reform; there is a need for transparency in the way the Church responds to allegations of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults, even as we continue our efforts of preventing abuse and fostering a safe environment for all.”
The San Jose diocese’s decision comes after a Pennsylvania grand jury investigation in August revealed extensive clergy sexual abuse and efforts to cover it up, putting new pressure on American bishops and the Vatican for a fuller accounting of abuse dating back decades. Since the Pennsylvania report, attorneys general in New York, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and New Mexico have said they will investigate Catholic priest sex abuse and requested records from local dioceses, where most bishops have been saying they will cooperate. California has not yet taken such a step.
John Salberg, 53, one of 12 men molested as boys in the 1970s by the late Rev. Joseph Pritchard at St. Martin of Tours in San Jose, had mixed emotions to Thursday’s announcement.
“Any progress is good,” Salberg said. “I applaud any effort for this outside secular investigation of the church, that’s just what needs to be done. But there’s an emotional piece — why wasn’t this done 16 years ago?”
Following the Pennsylvania report, the Diocese of San Diego announced it will conduct an internal file review going back more than 50 years and publish names of priests that have not before been made public on the diocese’s web site.
Elsewhere in the Bay Area, Helen Osman, interim director of communications for the Diocese of Oakland, said that “we are conducting a review of our files currently” but “no decision has been made regarding a release of names, although discussions are occurring.”
In the Archdiocese of San Francisco, communications director Mike Brown did not respond this week to questions about whether it was taking similar steps.
Salberg said he would have liked a state grand jury to look into the abuse during the time his case was settled in 2005 in civil court against the San Francisco Diocese, which was in charge of San Jose parishes back then. Opening a grand jury investigation in California now, he said, could still do some good.
McGrath said the San Jose diocese will hold three “listening sessions” in coming weeks in which he will invite comment from “those who have been victimized by clerical sexual abuse either directly or in their families.” They are scheduled for Sept. 22, Oct. 2 and Oct. 17.
By mid-October, McGrath continued, “we will release a list of the names and the status of every priest who has already been found to be credibly accused of abusing minors within the Diocese of San Jose.”
“I hope that releasing these names will help the innocent victims, survivors and their families to take the next step on their journey to wholeness and that it will give others who have not spoken out the strength and trust to come forward,” McGrath said in the statement.
The diocese also has arranged for “an in-depth independent review” of all records of the diocese pertaining to the sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults committed by any cleric appointed by the bishop. That review, McGrath said, will be led by Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI executive assistant director, and her firm, Kinsale Management Consulting.
The review of files “will also seek to determine how diocesan leadership handled allegations of sexual abuse when they were received,” the diocese’s statement said.
As a result of the examination, there may be additional offenders identified and their names will be released at the completion of this review,” the diocese’s statement said.
McGrath said the diocese also has asked McChesney to make recommendations “as to how we can improve our processes for responding to survivors of abuse, preventing future abuse, and being accountable and more transparent for the actions of offenders and those who may have enabled or protected them.”