Slowik: Religious orders should publicize names of those accused of sexual abuse, just like diocesan priests
By Ted Slowik
April 14, 2018
|Robert Krankvich, right, and one of his attorneys, Jeffrey Anderson, held a press conference Thursday, April 12, 2018, to announce the filing of a lawsuit alleging that former Providence Catholic president the Rev. Richard McGrath sexually abused Krankvich in the mid-1990s.|
On its website, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet publishes a document called, “List of Diocesan Priests With a Credible/Substantial Allegation.”
When I checked Friday, the list contained 35 names and was last updated in late 2016.
I’d like you to take note of the word “diocesan” in the document’s title.
In the Roman Catholic Church, there’s a difference between diocesan priests and members of religious orders. You may be familiar with the names of some religious orders. Franciscans, Jesuits, Benedictines, Dominicans and Carmelites rank among the more well-known.
There’s a notable distinction between the two types of clerics. Diocesan priests answer to their bishop, archbishop or cardinal. Members of religious orders answer to superiors who lead their congregation. The pope has authority over both types of Catholics.
Since 2002, Joliet and many other Roman Catholic dioceses have publicized the names of diocesan priests who faced credible accusations of sexually abusing minors. Religious orders, on the other hand, typically do not make that information readily available to the public.
I think it’s time for that to change. I think religious orders should follow the lead of their diocesan counterparts and publish the names of priests, brothers, sisters, monks, friars and others who faced credible, substantiated claims of sexually abusing children.
That’s one goal of a lawsuit filed this week by Robert Krankvich, 36, of Crest Hill. Krankvich alleges that when he was a young teen in the mid-1990s he was repeatedly sexually abused by the Rev. Richard McGrath, 71.
When reached for comment by the Daily Southtown on Thursday, McGrath’s attorney Patrick Reardon declined comment.
At the time, Krankvich attended Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox. McGrath was principal of the school from 1986 to 2008 and president from 2009 until last year, when he stepped down amid an investigation of the contents of his cell phone.
McGrath is an Augustinian religious order priest, a member of the Order of St. Augustine. Defendants named in the suit include the Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel of the Augustinian Order, also known as the Augustinians of the Midwest Province.
The lawsuit asks a judge to order the Augustinians to disclose information about its members who may pose a threat to the public safety of children.
“Krankvich respectfully requests injunctive relief against the Augustinians in the form of a court order requiring the Augustinians to publicly release the identities, histories and documents regarding each accused child molesting cleric and each such cleric’s pattern of grooming and sexual behavior,” the suit states.
I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools for 15 years. It took me awhile to appreciate the difference between personnel who were ordained as diocesan priests and those who were members of religious orders.
I spoke Friday with Marc Pearlman, one of the attorneys representing Krankvich. I met Pearlman in the early 2000s when I was a reporter in Joliet. I wrote about people who shared their stories of sexual abuse by priests, including many of the 35 names listed on the Joliet Diocese website.
Pearlman and Minneapolis attorney Jeff Anderson, who is also representing Krankvich, also represented some of the people who shared their stories with me. I believe media coverage and legal action compelled Joliet and other dioceses to publicize the names of credibly accused abusers.
I would like to think that 15 years after many dioceses have shared the information, religious orders would have voluntarily taken similar action, but they haven’t.
“The vast majority of religious orders are not doing it,” Pearlman told me. “You’re not going to find that information.”
Attorneys representing people who were sexually abused as children by clergy have forced religious organizations to release documents and disclose information by successfully arguing the lack of transparency is a public nuisance.
They’ve effectively applied laws that were intended for environmental protections. The public has a right to know about the dangers of asbestos, for example, and how health and safety might be threatened.
“In order to protect the public we’re allowed to bring an action to force disclosure,” Pearlman said.
I asked Pearlman about the importance of dioceses and religious orders publicizing names of abusers. He explained that in many cases, the alleged crimes occurred too long ago to pursue criminal prosecution. The statute of limitations has run.
Also, some survivors of sexual abuse step forward years later with substantiated claims but opt not to pursue a civil lawsuit. Sometimes, there’s no public record naming an individual even though the allegations of misconduct are found to be credible.
“There’s no way to determine they were a bad actor,” Pearlman said.
Background checks of such individuals would reveal no information about claims of past misconduct or show that someone might still pose a threat to the safety of children.
On Friday, I checked websites for several religious orders. I found policies explaining steps to protect children, contact information for victim assistance coordinators and links to sites with information about contacting law enforcement authorities.
On their website, the Midwest Augustinians address the issue on a page titled, “Maintaining Ethical Ministry With Minors and Adults.” Every member of the order has completed training about sexual abuse prevention and undergone a background check, the site said.
“We have set up a review board to consider matters related to the protection of young people and to be an independent source of advice on these matters,” the website said. “At this time we are prepared to report that each member of the province has been cleared by a criminal background check.”
I did not, however, find any lists of names of credibly accused abusers published by the Augustinians or other religious orders.
I told Pearlman I thought the pope should compel religious orders to voluntarily publish names of credibly accused sexual abusers. He agreed, and said bishops and other diocesan leaders also could do more to pressure religious orders to make the information public.
“There’s no reason the Diocese of Joliet or the Archdiocese of Chicago couldn’t say to a religious order, ‘If you want to engage in ministry in our jurisdiction, you have to publish the lists.’”
I also reached out Friday to the Midwest Augustinian province and asked about the religious order publicizing the names of credibly accused sexual abusers. The province provided a statement that summarized what its website says about protecting children but did not address my inquiry about publicizing names.
“Because of my heartfelt commitment to respond to the tragedy of the sexual abuse of minors, and to the recently announced allegation of sexual abuse against Fr. Richard McGrath, I want to offer some words of explanation regarding the Augustinian response to the sexual abuse of minors,” the statement read.
“My heart goes out to anyone who has been hurt by the conduct of anyone associated with the church,” the Very Rev. Bernie C. Scianna, prior provincial of the province, said in the statement.