Diocese of Savannah responds to report detailing allegations of abuse by area clergy

WJCL 22 ABC News [Savannah, GA]

March 24, 2023

By Graham Cawthon

The report, from the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, is the result of a third-party review dating back to 2019.

The Diocese of Savannah issued a statement Friday, shortly after a report was released detailing suspected child abuse by Roman Catholic clergy in both Savannah and Georgia.

The report, from the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, is the result of a third-party review dating back to 2019 of records, files and documents from the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Savannah concerning suspected child abuse.

According to the PAC, the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Savannah and their attorneys fully cooperated in the review and made all documents available.

“We began the review by immediately evaluating whether any of the alleged sexual abuse reports occurred within the applicable criminal statute of limitations,” the PAC wrote. “The review did not uncover ongoing or active allegations of sexual abuse that could be criminally pursued. Confirming that no prosecutable cases existed, the attention of the evaluation turned to the historical sexual abuse of children and sexual misconduct against adults within the church and the church’s response to allegations.

In all the situations contained in this report either the criminal statute of limitations had expired, the accused was deceased, the allegations had been reported to the proper authorities or the accused had been prosecuted by the appropriate jurisdiction.”

The report goes on to detail numerous individuals dating back to the 1920s with ties to the Diocese of Savannah, their assignments within the church and detailed accounts of the accusations against them.

You can read the report in full here.

In its conclusion, the report read, “Based on records reviewed, since 2002, the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Savannah have been notifying the appropriate authorities either by contacting the Department of Family and Children Services or law enforcement of child abuse allegations reported to their organizations.”

“The Archdiocese of Atlanta and Diocese of Savannah appear sincere in their efforts to right past wrongs by providing pastoral care to victims and complying fully and timely with Georgia’s mandated reporter statute.”

Shortly after its release, Bishop Stephen D. Parkes, on behalf of the Diocese of Savannah, issued a response.

“The sexual abuse crisis has been a blight on the Church and a source of profound suffering. While the sins of the past cannot be overlooked – and indeed must be acknowledged – I assure you that the Church of today is firmly committed to the safety and protection of children.

My heart aches for those who have been affected by the scandal of abuse in any way, from the victims and their families to those who have had their faith shaken by priests who betrayed the love of Christ. Please know that there is always an opportunity for healing and that the Church herself longs to console all who suffer.

Please join me in praying for all victims of abuse and for the efforts of the Church to end abuse in all forms and in all places. Let us pray also for the good priests damaged by the actions of others, and for the repentance of abusers.

May the Lord grant us his healing and his peace.”

A statement from SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, was critical of the report’s findings.

“This report, in our opinion, is a repetition of what the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Savannah’s list of “credibly accused clergy” already tells us. …We hope that the low numbers of abusive clergy reported will encourage other still-silent victims and witnesses to come forward as well as parishioners and the public to press secular authorities in Georgia to do more investigating. It is our hope that this initial news will serve as a reminder to victims that they are not alone and that there are people who will support and believe them.

We are certain there are a lot more abusive clergy members than are being reported. This is based on our 30 years of experience, the (PAC) findings, and reports we have seen published by other state authorities.

We find it alarming to see that the report revealed that the Archdiocese of Atlanta started to treat reports of sexual abuse more seriously in the early 1990s. We know the average age at which allegations of child sex abuse are made is 52. That would imply that abuse victims from the 1990s and 2000s have yet to acknowledge the full effects the trauma has had on their life and have not stepped forward.”