Survivor group slams Fresno Catholic churches for withholding names of accused priests

By Yesenia Amaro
Fresno Bee
October 26, 2020

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It remains unknown when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno may release its list of credibly accused priests of sexual misconduct two years after it began to ponder what to release to the public.

An advocacy organization says the diocese is stalling the release of names of accused priests because it doesn’t want to encourage more lawsuits from victims. The diocese would not comment on that claim.

Almost all dioceses in California released their lists, naming credibly accused priests, in 2018 and 2019, but the Diocese of Fresno has yet to share that information with the public. The Archdiocese of San Francisco is the only other entity that has not released that information.

In September 2018, former Bishop Armando X. Ochoa began to work with a review board to determine what information the Diocese of Fresno would make public. In February 2019, officials announced the diocese had hired Kinsale Management Consulting to review records going back to the 1950s — as other dioceses in the state did — before it could release any information.

At the time, a diocese official said the names of priests accused of sex crimes would be released within a year, which would have been in early 2020.

Cheryl Sarkisian, chancellor at the Diocese of Fresno, last week said the investigation “is a work in progress.” She would not say how much longer the investigation is expected to take to be completed or what is delaying it.

“When it is completed, it will be released,” she said. “I do not know how much longer it will take.”

Sarkisian refused to say how much the diocese is paying Kinsale Management Consulting for the review. Kinsale Management Consulting didn’t respond to a request for comment that was submitted online to the firm.

The Diocese of Fresno oversees 87 parishes in Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Kern, Inyo, Madera, Merced, and Mariposa counties. The diocese serves an estimated 1.2 million Catholics across those eight counties.

Joey Piscitelli, with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in California, said Bishop Joseph V. Brennan “has showed that he is willing to protect accused clergy.”

“This attitude may be a factor in his decision to not be fully transparent with a list of accused clergy at this time,” Piscitelli said. “Another reason may well be that it will show that the diocese has had a pattern of secrecy and concealment of accused clergy, and the diocese would rather continue that pattern, rather than commit to full transparency, as does the Diocese of San Francisco.”

Piscitelli said the Diocese of Fresno may also be delaying the release of its lists because it has pending lawsuits from victims as a result of the Child Victims Act, also known as Assembly Bill 218, that went into effect in January. Releasing the names of priests can encourage more lawsuits, Piscitelli said.

The Child Victims Act increased the statute of limitations to age 40, and it gave adult survivors who recently discovered their abuse five years to sue. Soon after the law took effect, the Diocese of Fresno was sued in January. Days later that same month, the diocese got hit with a second lawsuit.

The Dioceses of Fresno is one of six dioceses in the state that is taking part in a compensation program for victims that operated independently from the church. Victims of sex abuse were able to start seeking compensation through this program in late 2019.

Sarkisian didn’t say how many victims have applied and how much money has been distributed.

“Another reason Bishop Brennan may not want to list the names is because it may encourage victims of those accused priest to come forward if they see the diocese has admitted that certain priests were in fact credibly accused,” Piscitelli said. “Those victims may feel empowered or validated, and may come forward with a new claim or lawsuit.”

SNAP has created its own list of priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct within the Diocese of Fresno, and there are 46 priests named.

“Perhaps Bishop Brennan does not want to formally acknowledge the names of all the credibly accused clergy in the diocese because there may be even more names on the list than the 46 we have,” he said. “And that’s because of the probability that there may be complaints that were made directly to the diocese that were kept secret and not made public years ago, or even in the present.”

Sarkisian chose not to respond to comments made by Piscitelli.

Jan Potts, assistant director of communications and public relations with the Archdiocese of San Francisco, said Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone in 2018 hired a third-party to review its files. The review began in early 2019 and was completed by February 2020.

Cordileone was preparing to review it, and then the pandemic hit, which has been a focus for the archdiocese, she said.

“He has not made a decision about announcing any kind of a list or releasing a list,” she said. There is “a lot to consider, a lot of information.”

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