Providing a list of accused priests was not sufficient

The Day

April 1. 2019

It has been nearly two months since the Catholic Diocese of Norwich released its list of priests that it said had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct involving minors. If the purpose of releasing the list was intended to provide transparency and start to move past the scandal that has long dogged the church, it was an abject failure.

The problem is that Bishop Michael Cote wants to define the parameters of transparency, unadvised and unquestioned by any independent entity. He has lifted the veil, but only so far. The result is that rather than reassuring parishioners and the public, the attempt at coming clean has only generated more questions and, to a degree, created greater distrust about the church’s real intentions.

Was the intent to truly come to grips with what happened or to make a gesture and move on? The evidence suggests the latter was the greater motivation. It didn’t work.

The release of 43 names provided little context. There were names, dates of ordination, whether the individuals were removed from ministry, if they had died, and whether they were a member of the diocese at the time of the credible abuse allegations.

But there was no listing of the parishes these men had served in at the time of their abusive actions or information on the scope of their behavior or the number of potential victims. Most disappointingly, there was no acknowledgement of how their cases were handled by former bishops and the diocese.

The bishops were the enablers of this becoming a massive scandal. It is a reality many still appear unwilling to confront. How often were these priests reassigned, often after supposedly being “cured” by counseling of their propensity for deviancy, only to find new child victims in parishes left unaware of their past misconduct? Why were police or child welfare agencies not contacted? Or were they?

As for what was released, the diocese fumbled and stumbled forward. Within days the diocese added three names of priests, men who served the Diocese of Norwich but had credible allegations lodged against them elsewhere.

Most troubling, the diocese removed the name of a former priest from the list, admitting there were no allegations of sexual abuse of a minor in the individual’s record, but making no apology. The priest, now deceased, had however ministered to the homosexual community in a manner that was in opposition to church teaching and orders. He was dismissed from the priesthood in 1994. Why was he listed? There was no explanation.

Evidence has continued to surface that there were other priests who faced credible claims of sexual abuse of children, but never made the list. At the time the diocese released the names, it stated $7.7 million had been paid out to victims, but did not state which priests were tied to settlements. Personal injury attorneys, who have represented plaintiffs suing the church for permitting the abusive conduct, said the settlement number appeared low. Soon after, the diocese announced another $900,000 settlement.

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