What it Really Means When a Bishop Says a Predator is “Outside of the Diocese”

Adam Horowitz Law [Fort Lauderdale, FL]

March 15, 2024

By Adam Horowitz

In our lives, we’re often faced with situations that demand clarity and specific answers. Imagine asking someone where they placed a particular item, only to receive an ambiguous “not around here” in response. Frustrating, isn’t it? This need for specificity isn’t just a preference in trivial matters, but a crucial expectation when the stakes are high, especially concerning safety and justice. This brings us to a disconcerting practice within the Catholic Church involving the handling of child molesting clerics, often shielded by the phrase “outside the diocese.”

The Demand for Specific Answers Concerning Scenarios

When it comes to serious concerns, vagueness isn’t just inadequate; it’s negligent. Let’s delve into a few hypothetical yet relatable scenarios:

Undesirable Answers to Important Questions

• The Missing Car Dilemma: Your spouse inquires about the whereabouts of your car, and you respond with “Not around here.” This answer is evasive and unhelpful, showing a disregard for the concern at hand.

• Holiday Plans Inquiry: When asked about your holiday plans, replying with “Not around here” lacks transparency and fails to satisfy the asker’s curiosity or concern.

• Serious Health Concerns: If a doctor queries about your travel history in light of a contagious virus diagnosis, “Not around here” is dangerously inadequate. It trivializes the gravity of the situation and obstructs necessary precautionary measures.

In all these instances, the non-specific responses are unsatisfactory and irresponsible. This analogy closely mirrors the critical issue within the Catholic Church regarding the handling of predator priests.

“Outside the Diocese”: A Cloak of Ambiguity

When addressing the whereabouts of child molesting Catholic clerics, church officials frequently use the term “outside the diocese.” This phrase, while seemingly benign, is often a deliberate attempt to obscure the true location of these individuals. Why does this matter, you might ask?

Hidden Motives and the Fear of Exposure

Several reasons can motivate someone to withhold information, especially specifics that could lead to accountability. These include:

• A Desire to Hide Something: When church officials say a priest is “outside the diocese,” it often implies they’re trying to conceal the priest’s location to prevent scrutiny.
• A Perceived Lack of Deservingness: At times, there’s an arrogant assumption that the questioner doesn’t “deserve” to know, reinforcing a power imbalance.
• Avoidance of Hassle: Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of not wanting to deal with the aftermath of being transparent.
• Fear of Consequences: The most critical reason is the apprehension that if the predator’s current location is revealed, it could lead to legal actions, financial losses, and public embarrassment for the Church.

The Illusion of Ignorance and Its Implausibility

Given the structured nature of the Catholic Church, the claim of ignorance regarding a cleric’s whereabouts is far-fetched. Considering this, why do officials still refrain from providing specific answers? Let’s rephrase the question: Can you think of even one good reason to refuse to provide a specific answer to a simple question? We can’t.

So why, when referring to known or suspected abusers, do Catholic officials talk or write and say he is or was “outside of the diocese.” Do bishops say Fr. Bob, Deacon Mike, or Brother Dan is ‘outside the diocese’ without naming a city, state, or country because they don’t know anything more specific?

That’s very unlikely. If that were the case, wouldn’t they say Fr. Bob, Deacon Mike, or Brother Dan is “BELIEVED TO BE outside the diocese, BUT WE ARE NOT SURE WHERE EXACTLY HE IS?”

Why do we confidently say that bishops ARE aware of priests’ whereabouts?

Just use your common sense. There are too few priests and seminarians. Most priests are old (and obviously getting older), so priests are in short supply and great demand. Without them, a diocese can’t open new churches and ministries. It can’t effectively serve its church members in schools, parishes, colleges, hospitals, prisons, and social service agencies.

Without an adequate number of priests in his diocese, a bishop might well be overlooked for promotions to higher posts.

So, the Catholic hierarchy works very hard to attract, train, ordain, and retain priests. They do not let priests wander the country and tell them, “Just give us a call when you’re ready to get back to work.”

To use a sports analogy, priests are not ‘free agents.’ They pledge to obey their bishop or religious order supervisor when they take their vows. They promise to work and live wherever their superior tells them to work and live.

They can’t walk off the job, not if they want their paycheck, health insurance, life insurance, dental insurance, housing allowance, car allowance, and expense account. Certainly not if they ever hope to work anywhere in the world for a Catholic institution. Therefore, when a cleric is “on duty outside the diocese,’ his superior knows precisely where he is.

Shedding Light on the Circumstances of Predator Clerics

The refusal to disclose the locations of these clerics not only hinders justice but also perpetuates a cycle of abuse and cover-up. Examining case studies—such as those of Fr. Harry Dean WalkerFr. James E. MasonFr. John H. SuttonFr. Daniel MurrayFr. James Stauber,  and many others—illustrates a systemic issue of transparency within the Church. These clerics were listed as “On Duty Outside the Diocese” in official directories, with no further details provided, underscoring a troubling pattern of obfuscation. Where outside the directory? Why won’t they say? There are lots of ways to protect and help and enable child molesting clerics. Hiding their whereabouts is a simple, cheap, and common way.

A Call for Transparency and Accountability

The practice of hiding predator clerics “outside the diocese” is a glaring testament to the need for overhaul within the Catholic hierarchy. It’s not just about being open in communication; it’s about being accountable for the protection and welfare of the community. As we continue to uncover these undisclosed truths, let this knowledge not dishearten us but fuel our determination to seek justice and safeguard the innocent. The time for genuine reform and transparency within the Church is overdue, and it’s up to us, the global community, to insist on these changes for the betterment of all.

The phrase “outside the diocese” should no longer serve as a veil for evasion but as a clarion call for action. Let us all contribute to breaking this cycle of secrecy and ensure a safer environment for future generations.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or adam@adamhorowitzlaw.com to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.