Editorial: Lists of abusive Catholic priests remain obscure and incomplete. That must change

Kansas City Star [Kansas City MO]

July 28, 2021

The Catholic Church’s attempt to repair the damage caused by decades of priestly abuse would be vastly improved by a full, transparent, easy-to-use national list of abusive clerics. And no, that still doesn’t exist.

Two years ago, many dioceses — but not all — began publishing lists of priests “credibly accused” of abusive behavior. But these are too often incomplete, as well as difficult to find and use.

“There are far more names out there now than ever before,” said David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. “Is it anywhere near the totals? Absolutely not. … Bishops always have, and still, put out the very least amount of information as possible.”

The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, for example, has published a list of “substantiated abuse allegations” against nearly two dozen clerics. Yet the list lacks photographs of the offenders, or full work histories, or the names of any lay offenders.

Other dioceses provide this critical information. A comprehensive list would better notify the community.

More fundamentally, the Church’s decision to allow each diocese to decide for itself how to compile and publish abuse lists virtually assures that they will be incomplete and confusing. A church member, or abuse victim, seeking information about a priest must sort through dozens of lists in different jurisdictions — all using different standards.

“Each diocesan bishop makes the decision whether or not to publish a list of credibly accused clerics,” said a statement from Ashlie Hand, speaking for the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese.

“This decision is based on multiple factors informed by each bishop’s advisors and state laws that impact the consequences of the level of detail shared,” she said.

Private groups have stepped forward to aggregate the information as best they can. More than a year ago, ProPublica published a searchable database of abusive priests, drawing information from published diocesan lists and other records.

“The list does not constitute a government-run sex-offender registry,” ProPublica said when it published the database, “but it does raise important questions about the men, such as their location, access to minors or vulnerable adults, and whether or not they can be realistically and properly supervised.”

The website Bishopaccountability.org also contains in-depth information about abusive priests and the abuse crisis.

But the Catholic Church itself has failed to assemble all of the information it has in one central place, for easy use and consultation by the public.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has long said they haven’t produced a comprehensive list because of varying state laws. “The decision of whether and how to best release lists and comply with varying civil reporting laws have been the responsibility of individual dioceses,” said Chieko Noguchi, a USCCB spokeswoman, last year.

Clohessy isn’t convinced. “If they genuinely want to protect kids, and genuinely want to heal victims, and genuinely want the trust of their flock, why would they not put out a national list?” he asked.

That’s a valid question.

This is not about punishing the Catholic Church, or extending the crisis of clergy abuse. The church — or any organization with a similar record of ignoring and hiding predatory behavior — will only find absolution after full transparency.

For Catholics, nothing can be more important than fully facing the long history of clerical abuse, and demanding full transparency and accountability from church leaders today.

A national clearinghouse and database, compiled and published by the Catholic Church itself, would be a good step in that direction.