Bishops consider identifying clergy accused of sex abuse
By John Simerman
September 22, 2018
When Louisiana’s five Catholic bishops met earlier this month in Lafayette for their regular quarterly meeting, there was no need to consult an agenda.
Since their last meeting, news had spread of the New Orleans archdiocese settling several claims of abuse involving a defrocked Metairie deacon, George Brignac, without the church following its own guidelines for publicly reporting it.
Then came the late July bombshell from a Pennsylvania grand jury, identifying what it said were credible allegations of abuse against more than 300 “predator priests” and involving more than 1,000 child victims across six of that state’s eight dioceses.
Bishops across the country have been scrambling to respond, with some deciding to release lists of clergy and other church officials who had been implicated in similar abuses over the years.
“It was the first thing on our minds: How can we respond to the questions coming at us from all directions? And rightfully so,” Bishop Michael Duca of the Diocese of Baton Rouge said Friday.
Duca echoed what New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond said Friday in an interview with The Advocate: that Louisiana’s bishops are now weighing if, when and how to release a similar list of names of clergy and others who have been the subjects of credible allegations of abuse.
Both Aymond and Duca, who served a decade as bishop in Shreveport before moving to the much larger Baton Rouge diocese last month, said Aymond and the state’s four other sitting bishops haven’t made any final decisions on what, if anything, to release.
Aymond said such a disclosure would require personal conversations with everyone who is going to have allegations against them disclosed.
He added that while he would be open to disclosing credible allegations against dead clerics, doing so is more complicated than it sounds, because those people are unable to defend or explain themselves in the course of investigations.
Aymond said the investigations of accused clergy members involve both diocesan officials and police speaking to the accuser as well as the accused. “When there’s a missing piece, it changes the complexion,” he said.
Duca told The Advocate last month that his view of the clergy abuse scandal is that “it’s better to take the Band-Aid off quick and clear it out.” He said there’s no timetable for a decision, adding that it’s important that all of the state’s bishops at least agree on “a general template” for doing so.
“This is a big thing for us. We’re committed to it. We’re taking it seriously, but we’re going to take the time to do this right,” he said.
“We want to do it in a way that’s transparent, credible, honest, caring and also legal, to make sure we’re not overstepping our bounds.”
Duca said Aymond and the other sitting Louisiana bishops are planning a united response to avoid putting added pressure on any particular diocese, although “every bishop will have their own unique situation and response.”
According to bishop-accountability.org, a clergy abuse watchdog site, more than 50 dioceses nationwide -- out of a total of roughly 200 -- have released similar lists.
But advocates for clergy abuse survivors note that many of those revelations were required under the terms of legal settlements with victims.
Other lists have proven much less than adequate, said Tim Lennon, president of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and himself a victim of a clergy member who was moved from parish to parish.
Lennon pointed to Buffalo, New York, where the bishop, Richard Malone, is facing a firestorm after a news station found secret documents showing that his release of the names of 42 priests in March was a severe undercount, and that Malone himself had returned a previously removed priest to the ministry while ignoring new allegations against him.
“You can see consistently across the nation that there’s a pattern of covering up,” Lennon said.
“I would say every state should have a grand jury, every state should have a hotline. It’s the only way they’re going to find out the true scope of this.”
Lennon and other advocates also say the devil is in the details of just what information dioceses release. Do they include priests from independent religious orders such as the Jesuits and Franciscans? Do they include lay people affiliated with the church or other Catholic institutions?
The Advocate reported last week on previously undisclosed legal settlements involving sexual abuse at Jesuit High School and various church communities within the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Jesuit falls within the archdiocese but is run by the Jesuit order, whose guidelines for disclosure do not precisely match those set forth by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 following an earlier wave of sex abuse scandals across the church.