Editorial: Give sexual abuse victims a path to justice

Argus Leader

May 25, 2019

Two months ago, the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls released the names of 11 priests who faced substantiated accusations of abusing minors between 1958 and 1992 while serving in eastern South Dakota.

The action came on the crest of a recent wave of such disclosures by Catholic leaders across the country. It began in Pennsylvania last year, when a grand jury in that state accused several dioceses of attempting to cover up abuse by 300 former priests.

As such, the public statement from Sioux Falls Bishop Paul Swain seemed a step in the right direction. Swain apologized to victims “as a sign of my and our faith community’s accepting responsibility for failings over the years.”

He urged those who had suffered abuse at the hands of any of the 11 priests named in the statement to come forward, so that “assistance might be offered and justice accomplished.” He acknowledged that many victims “remain silent for fear they will not be believed.”

But Swain’s statement fell short of the level of disclosure from the Rapid City Diocese several weeks earlier. The Rapid City statement listed the assignments, including dates, of the priests with credible claims of abuse against them.

Matt Althoff, chancellor of the Sioux Falls Diocese, defended the absence of that kind of information. Swain’s letter was addressed to victims who “know where the abuse happened,” Althoff said. “Really it is out of a profound sensitivity for the deserved confidentiality of a victim of clergy sexual abuse that all those details, the bishop chose not to include in his letter.”

Priests who had been permanently assigned to the Rapid City Diocese were not the only names disclosed in the Rapid City statement. Also included on their list were credibly-accused members of the Jesuit religious order who had been assigned to missions and mission schools on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations.

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