Fargo and Bismarck Catholic Diocese Release List of Known Clergy Who Sexually Abused Minors

Legal Examiner – O’Keefe, O’Brien, Lyson, Foss Law

January 6, 2020

By Timothy O’Keefe

Nearly six months after publicly calling for the release of a list of known offending priests in the diocese, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fargo released the names of 31 leaders in the church connected to the sexual abuse of minors. The Bismarck Diocese also released a list of 22 clergy members who likely sexually abused a minor on January 2, 2020.

Notably, the list only includes those involving “substantiated allegations” of minor sexual abuse. The Fargo Diocese has explained its definition of substantiated allegation as “one for which sufficient corroborating evidence establishes reasonable grounds to believe that the alleged abuse in fact occurred.”
The lists include only the clergy member’s name, year of ordination, year of death, and basic status in the church. Twenty-two of the 31 clergy are deceased from the Fargo Diocese’s list, while 20 of the 22 on the Bismarck Diocese’s list are deceased. The Bismarck Diocese also notes there have been no substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor in the dioceses since 1989.

As noted in the New York Times by Tim Lennon, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, without additional details like “work history, photographs, when the allegations against each clergy member were received and what actions were taken in response,” the release of the list comes off as a “public relations ploy to appease the public.” The Fargo list does not provide where any timeline of when the church learned of the substantiated allegation or took action against these individuals. Further, neither the Fargo nor Bismarck lists provide information about where the living clergy are currently residing.

Media outlets and other organizations tracking public accusations of clergy abuse have also noted some names appear to be missing from the dioceses’ lists. BishopAccountability.org is an organization which maintains a database of publicly accused priests based upon dioceses’ published lists, publicly-filed court records, and news articles. Between the dioceses’ lists and the database, there are at least five clergy members who have allegedly abused individuals but are not on the lists publicly released by the dioceses yesterday. For example, as of August 2019, at least two priests not named on the dioceses’ lists were under investigation for sexual abuse.

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