A Guide to Exploring a Priest's Assignment Record
in the Official Catholic Directory and Other Sources

The basic source for establishing the assignment record of an accused or convicted priest is the Official Catholic Directory, which offers annual assignment information for diocesan and order priests. A "centralized hierarchical organization with a solid bureaucratic tradition," in Philip Jenkins's words, makes it easier to track the assignments of priests. But that same organization has a highly developed system of euphemism and evasion about these matters. So the Official Catholic Directory must be supplemented from other sources in order to develop the complete record of an accused or convicted priest. In this guide (see below), we show how some very important histories are revealed and concealed in the pages of the Official Catholic Directory.

Heartbreaking and important stories are contained in the Official Catholic Directory, but the books themselves are dry and difficult to work with. To make it easier for you to get used to them, we have written this guide around little stories that are good illustrations of the uses and problems of the Official Catholic Directory. In front of those stories is a step-by-step description of the research process.

1.   How to Create a Assignment Record in a Few Easy Steps

2.   Last Year at St. Anthony's: Looking Up a Priest in the Official Catholic Directory

2a. Are There Gaps in the Parish Records of the Official Catholic Directory?

3.   Parish School and Festival: Transfers in the Official Catholic Directory

4.   Distinguished Priests: Background in the Official Catholic Directory

5.   Clergy Burial Grounds: Retirement and Death in the Official Catholic Directory

6.   Heal the Sick: Chaplains and Treatment in the Official Catholic Directory

The Official Catholic Directory has been published every year since 1817. It lists the assignments of every diocesan and order priest, as well as their role (if any) in the hierarchy. By tracking an accused or convicted priest through the Official Catholic Directory, we can locate the parishes or other institutions where he worked, thereby identifying vulnerable populations. By cross-checking his record with diocesan documents or other reports of abuse, we can also assess the transfer policies of his bishop(s).

The Official Catholic Directory does not report directly on visits to treatment centers, suspensions, removal of faculties, or laicizations. But the record-keeping system of U.S. Catholicism has forced bishops to use certain proxies for these actions in their Official Catholic Directory entries each year. So a priest who is on sick leave, or who drops out of the Official Catholic Directory for a year, or is "in residence" at a parish, or vanishes from the Official Catholic Directory instead of explicitly retiring, is a priest who might have an abuse problem. It is important to recognize that alcoholism and other personal problems, sometimes unrelated to sexual abuse, can also be reflected in gaps and other peculiarities in the Official Catholic Directory.

We can often fill out the picture we get from the Official Catholic Directory by consulting released diocesan files, obituaries, parish monuments, and the like.

This guide was created with two purposes in mind. First, to help volunteers and other interested persons who want to use the Official Catholic Directory to track an accused or convicted priest. Second, to show everyone the vivid stories of accused and convicted priests, transferred by their bishops as a way of concealing their behavior.

Every Catholic should heft a volume of the Official Catholic Directory and look up an abusive priest. It is a sobering experience. Each huge volume contains (but never identifies as such) thousands of abusers and hundreds of complicit bishops, as well as thousands of priests who were aware of abusers but said nothing. But the Official Catholic Directory also contains many thousands of blameless priests. It lists thousands of parishes that are spiritual homes to millions of Catholics. And it also lists thousands of hospitals and other good works.

How can such valuable work be purged of sexual abuse's pervasive presence? Not by continued secrecy and damage control. The staff at urges the U.S. bishops to publish detailed service records with treatment episodes and accusation dates for every abuser. In the meantime, we are undertaking this work ourselves.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.