Study finds more than 50 accused priests active outside the US

By Christopher White
March 9, 2020

A woman prays at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Camp Hill, Pa., May 7, 2019. A new report from ProPublica and the Houston Chronicle say that more than 50 abusive clerics have been able to continue in ministry in another country after leaving the United States.
Photo by Tyler Orsburn

A new analysis of diocesan lists of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse in the United States finds that more than 50 such clerics have been able to continue in ministry in another country, including work with minors, suggesting global gaps in the Church’s response to the abuse crisis.

The findings, published jointly last week by ProPublica and the Houston Chronicle, is a follow-up to an investigative effort commenced last year and published in January that includes the launch of an independent database listing nearly 6,000 priests accused of abuse in America.

Reporters from the two outlets analyzed lists from 52 U.S. dioceses, which revealed 51 priests facing allegations who continued in  new assignments outside of the U.S., including Nigeria, Ireland, the Philippines, and Mexico, which proved to be the most common destination for such priests.

The analysis reveals that 40 of the accused priests had worked along the southern U.S. border, including 11 in Texas, and that at least 21 resumed work in Mexico following allegations.

ProPublica is “a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power” and since the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report in 2018, chronicling seven decades of abuse of more than 1,000 victims at the hands of 300 priests, they have worked to consolidate diocesan lists of priests credibly accused of abuse.

“Nationwide, the names of more than 5,800 clergy members have been released so far, representing the most comprehensive step toward transparency yet by a Catholic Church dogged by its long history of denying and burying abuse by priests,” write the researchers in their original report.

Yet as dioceses have rushed to put out their own lists following the Pennsylvania grand jury report, many of the lists have been criticized for being inaccurate or incomplete, including not specifying whether priests were allowed to continue in ministry outside of the country.

The report notes that while the majority of U.S. dioceses have released some version of a public list of accused clergy, no diocese in Mexico - home to 90 million Catholics - has yet done so.

Just last week, the Mexican bishops’ conference announced that a planned visit by two top papal aides to address a local clerical sexual abuse crisis had been “postponed.” Although the official statement cited the outbreak of the coronavirus in Italy as the official reason, several reports have noted that some Mexican bishops had been opposed to the mission of Archbishop Charles Scicluna, and Spanish Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, the duo sent by Pope Francis to Chile in 2018, which uncovered decades of abuse and cover-up among the Catholic hierarchy.

Of the accused clergy who continued work in Mexico, the report writes, “Some crisscrossed the border with ease after being accused of sexual abuse, securing new posts even after being sent for treatment by the church. Others settled into parishes south of the border decades ago, delivering sermons and blessing babies as the statute of limitations for prosecution in the U.S. expired.”

Following the release of the original ProPublica report in January, some abuse survivors and watchdog organizations used to occasion to call for a global database of accused clergy, especially to track the movement of missionary priests and those from religious orders who often travel freely from country to country.

At the time, Terence McKiernan, president and co-director of the organization Bishop Accountability, told Crux that many of the lists that do exist are incomplete and could be improved, including better tracking of past assignments.

“There are gaps, and what ProPublica has done will exert serious pressure on the dioceses to fill those gaps,” he said.


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