April 24, 2019
By Jeremy Roebuck
When Arizona charter-school operator Rose Management Group offered John F. Meyers a contract position this year, the company either failed to discover or disregarded one important aspect about his past:
His prior job — a 35-year stint as a Roman Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia — ended abruptly after he was accused of sexually abusing a minor.
It took a group of internet sleuths, one a victim of clergy sex abuse herself, to uncover that record last week. The charter operator then ended its relationship with Meyers.
“This is a prime example of survivors working together to take the law into our own hands,” said Carolyn Fortney, the Harrisburg woman who uncovered Meyers’ new life in Tucson. “We’ll do what we have to do to protect children.”
The community that prompted Fortney’s investigation, the Philadelphia-based online group Catholics4Change, is one of a plethora of internet vigilantes and regional watchdog websites that have sprung up across the United States as the clergy sex abuse crisis continues to roil the church.
As recently as the early 2000s — the start of the scandal for the American church — ousted priests often were able to slip into relative anonymity. But now, groups like Catholics4Change and the Baltimore-based “The Keepers Official Facebook Group” — the inspiration for the eponymous 2017 Netflix documentary series — have harnessed the power of social media and extensive internet archives to organize, conduct research, create repositories of information on abusers, and hold church leaders to account.
Kathy Kane, co-administrator of the Catholics4Change group, said the circumstances behind Meyers’ January removal from ministry stood out.
Archdiocesan officials said little at the time about the accusation that led to Meyers’ ouster except that it stemmed from an abuse allegation dating to the 1980s.
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