Victim advocates blast Worcester Diocese report on clergy sex abuse

WGBH Radio - NPR affiliate [Boston MA]

February 6, 2023

By Sam Turken

Advocates of clergy sexual abuse victims are slamming a new report by the Catholic Diocese of Worcester on the abuse of minors, arguing the report is a “deceptive cover-up.”

According to the report, the diocese has received 209 allegations of clerical sexual abuse since its founding in 1950, 173 of which diocesan officials have deemed credible. Since only one allegation involves abuse that occurred since 1998, the report argues the diocese has effectively prevented sexual abuse of minors in recent years.

But attorneys who specialize in clerical pedophilia are forcefully rejecting that conclusion, arguing the Worcester Diocese has a history of discouraging victims from reporting their experiences. Lawyers and advocates add that people usually wait to come forward about their experiences with sexual abuse until they’re at least about 50 years old. Therefore, they say the report does not accurately reflect more recent cases of abuse during the 1990s and 2000s.

“Of course there aren’t going to be many claims from that time period,” said Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents victims of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church. “The report across the board hides the truth.”

Robert Hoatson, a former priest who now runs the New Jersey–based sexual abuse victims advocacy group Road to Recovery Inc., added it’s “absurd” for the diocese to say sexual abuse is less of a problem now. The Catholic Church, he said, hasn’t implemented any major reforms to address the issue. For example, it still mandates celibacy among clergy members, which Hoatson said fuels the sexual abuse problem.

“I urge the public to not believe this report,” he said.

Hoatson and Garabedian said the report could have been more reliable if it was conducted independently of the Catholic Church by government or law enforcement authorities. Instead, Bishop Robert McManus of the Diocese of Worcester produced the report with assistance from a diocesan review committee. The document, released Friday in The Catholic Free Press, was a follow-up to a similar one the Worcester Diocese produced in 2004.

The abuse detailed in the recent report involved 51 priests from the Worcester Diocese. One of the clerics alone was responsible for 17 credible abuse allegations and another was connected with nine. A majority of the accused priests — 36 — were deceased as of December 2022, and nine others have been defrocked, or removed from the clerical state, according to the report.

Helping to fuel the criticism: the report is the latest example of the Worcester Diocese’s practice of not listing clergy accused of abuse. Worcester remains the only diocese in Massachusetts to not produce a list with the names of credibly accused priests, according to the Massachusetts-based watchdog group

McManus addressed the issue in the report, suggesting that such a list would be divisive and unnecessary. He said the diocese already reports every allegation to law enforcement and widely distributes information on every priest who is put on administrative leave due to a credible allegation.

“Such lists can be a cause for deep division among many members of our Church who see this as publicly branding as guilty those who have never been charged by law enforcement or had a chance to defend themselves in a court of law,” McManus wrote.

McManus could not immediately be reached for comment.

But Garabedian and Hoatson said a list would further help alert the public of priests with possible histories of sex abuse. They said victims could heal knowing their abusers are finally being held accountable, and other survivors could be more willing to come forward about their experiences if they see their abusers have already faced other allegations.

“Bishop McManus is thumbing his nose at society, and saying, ‘We’re just not going to do the right thing,’” Garabedian said. “It’s shameful.”