‘we Have Nothing to Hide’: Oakland Diocese to Release Names of All Priests Credibly Accused of Sexually Abusing Minors
By Matthias Gafni
October 8, 2018
|The Bishop of Oakland Michael C. Barber speaks during the annual Blue Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, Calif., on Oct. 6, 2017. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)|
Following vows from Catholic churches in the South Bay, the Diocese of Oakland said Monday it too will launch an independent investigation into clergy sex abuse and name priests credibly accused of abusing children as part of a worldwide call to address the scandal.
Similar to an effort being undertaken by the Diocese of San Jose, Oakland Bishop Michael C. Barber announced that Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI executive assistant director, and her firm Kinsale Management Consulting will assist his office in reviewing clergy files and “audit the processes.” He said the first list of predator priests would be released in about 45 days, and that McChesney’s “full review” of church files will be completed “by the first of the year.”
The San Jose diocese announced that McChesney would “also seek to determine how diocesan leadership handled allegations of sexual abuse when they were received,” but Bishop Barber said McChesney would focus on ensuring that the Oakland diocese priest list was accurate. The offender priest list would be the only portion released publicly, Oakland diocese spokeswoman Helen Osman said.
“This is the latest step in the ongoing commitment of the Diocese of Oakland to stop the scourge of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults,” Barber wrote in a letter to parishioners. “This public accountability will allow you and others in our community to see we are keeping our promises. We have nothing to hide. It is the right thing to do.”
Barber said his diocese would release the list of names, which would include diocesan priests, religious order priests and priests from other areas who are serving in the Oakland diocese.
“With the large number of international and religious order clergy who have served in our diocese in the past, it will take some time to verify certain information,” Barber said. “I have instructed my staff to prioritize this work while also recognizing the importance of making the list as accurate as possible.”
Osman said it’s unclear what details will be included on the final list.
“We won’t know the specifics until we have been able to review all of the files,” she said.
San Jose Bishop Patrick J. McGrath’s decision to release the priest names by mid-October came after a Pennsylvania grand jury investigation in August revealed extensive clergy sexual abuse and efforts to cover it up, putting new pressure on American bishops and the Vatican for a fuller accounting of abuse dating back decades. Since the Pennsylvania report, attorneys general in New York, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and New Mexico have said they will investigate Catholic priest sex abuse and requested records from local dioceses, where most bishops have been saying they will cooperate. California has declined to say whether they have launched a probe or not.
Melanie Sakoda, a leader of the Bay Area Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said providing such a list was a good start.
“However, many dioceses who post lists have limited the names they release,” she said. “Deceased priests, foreign priests and order priests are often excluded. Women religious and lay employees who abuse are even less likely to be acknowledged. So, until we can review the list itself it is hard to evaluate the significance.”
Sakoda also worried about the 45-day estimate that would fall around Thanksgiving and “likely to limit the positive benefits of releasing the names by coming when people’s attention is focused elsewhere.”
Dan McNevin, a longtime SNAP leader in the Bay Area who was abused by a priest in Fremont, said the bishop should instead ask the Alameda County District Attorney or California Attorney General to open an investigation that is “unbiased and untainted by the conflicts inherent in a self-published list.”
“The investigation should have subpoena powers and the bishop should provide complete access to all files and personnel,” McNevin said. “This bishop is relatively new to the diocese. Excavating the past, even the very recent past, would not taint his legacy. And because he professes to have nothing to hide, we would expect willing cooperation to the greatest extent possible to protect kids and help to support survivors in their difficult journeys in coming forward to share their stories and heal.”
In his announcement Monday, Barber listed different ways people can report allegations of sexual misconduct by clergy or diocesan employees.
“I realize other victims may step forward with new information,” Barber said. “Any accusation will be fully investigated by our independent Diocesan Review Board. We intend to update our list as we receive new information.”
Elsewhere in the Bay Area, there have been differing responses on how to handle renewed pressure to investigate allegations of abusive clergy.
The Archbishop of San Francisco has been holding listening sessions at parishes, communications director Mike Brown said.
“We are well aware of what San Jose and Oakland are doing and it is definitely something we are considering seriously,” Brown said.
Since entering bankruptcy in 2014, the Stockton diocese has posted a list of credibly accused priests on its website.
“The list has continued to be updated as necessary over the last four years,” said spokesman Joseph Dondero. “The Diocese of Stockton does believe that this is an appropriate approach that other diocese have and will follow.”
Last week, the Santa Rosa diocese said it released the names of seven known abusers to the Sonoma County District Attorney in 2003, but declined to release their names to the public because it would have violated personnel confidentiality laws. Since the Pennsylvania report was released, the Santa Rosa diocese created a panel to review records and determine what names might be released.
A request for comment from the Monterey diocese was not immediately returned.