Review seen as a step toward healing
But anonymity is harmful, some say

By Bruce Nolan
May 18, 2002

When the Archdiocese of New Orleans announced Thursday the results of a review of 50 years' worth of clergy files and disclosed how much it has spent to settle claims that priests or deacons sexually abused minors, it broke sharply from its long-standing practice of revealing little or nothing about its experience dealing with sex abuse claims.

"The archdiocese has taken a huge and dramatic step in restoring the moral and spiritual credibility of the church," said the Rev. William Maestri, who disclosed the data Thursday afternoon at a news conference.

But a national victims advocate said Friday the archdiocese's decision not to name priests credibly accused of child abuse misses the best chance to convince victims and the public it is serious about healing old wounds.

"It has everything to do with healing and nothing to do with vengeance or besmirching someone's good name," said David Clohessy, a spokesman for SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"To release names is a sign to parishioners, family members, anyone who sided with a perpetrator when the allegation was made, that this really happened."

Disclosure called needless

The archdiocese Thursday said it had identified "credible" claims that 10 priests now retired, inactive or on restricted duty had sexually abused minors in the past. The 10 were being relieved of their abilities to say Mass and perform the sacraments, Maestri said.

Maestri said Friday that church officials decided not to release the names because they are convinced no good would come of it.

"The church's first and foremost concern is that children not be placed at risk. And since children are not at risk in the case of these individuals, there's no reason to be disclosing names just to be disclosing names," he said.

Maestri said two other priests now serving, one in a parish and working outside a parish, would shortly be relieved of their duties because the review found past sex abuse claims that "seem credible" but bear further investigation.

One necessarily will be identified this weekend when his parish is notified he is being removed from duty, Maestri said.

But the archdiocese will not disclose the name of the second active priest being suspended. That priest works outside a parish setting. "Again, the safety of children is being assured," Maestri said.

"That boggles my mind, that even at this junction, Archbishop (Alfred) Hughes won't release his name. That's the most Cardinal Law-like behavior I've seen in some time," Clohessy said, referring to Archbishop Bernard Law of Boston, where the scandal broke in January. "Look where this kind of secrecy has gotten us."

Debate about disclosure

Hughes and other bishops wrestling with such questions must weigh an institutional instinct for discretion against claims such as Clohessy's that openness helps victims and promotes healing.

In addition, they must weigh the words of Pope John Paul II, who, just before meeting with U.S. cardinals last month, said, "It is of the utmost importance that openness, honesty and transparency should always be the hallmark of everything that the church does."

Clohessy and other victims advocates argue that disclosure of offenders' names, even dead offenders, helps bring victims out of isolation.

"I'm sure that out there there's a 75-year-old mother praying to God to help her Johnny break his drug addiction. And if Mom sees that a now-dead monsignor abused children, she can ask her Johnny, 'Honey, did anything happen to you?'

"Any disclosure prompts very awkward but very important conversations," Clohessy said. "And that leads to healing."

Church is silent about Sax

In addition, Maestri declined to discuss the archdiocese's knowledge of Monsignor John Sax's admitted molestation of a boy for five years at St. Peter's Church in Reserve, beginning in 1980 when the boy was 10 years old.

Sax is presumably one of the 10 priests now on restricted duty who, like the others, has been prohibited from saying Mass as a result of the review, Maestri said.

In a statement admitting the abuse and expressing regret, Sax on Wednesday indicated he has received professional help. But it remains unclear when the archdiocese knew about his abuse of the boy in the early 1980s, whether it assisted him in getting treatment, and whether it assigned him to other parishes after knowing about the abuse.

"I cannot talk about that, not only because of civil litigation, but also because now I understand there is a criminal inquiry going on" by the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff's Office, Maestri said.

Smaller financial hit

In other elements of the disclosures, the archdiocese's announcement that since 1980 it and its insurers have paid $500,000 to settle claims of sex abuse against minors and $420,000 in therapy costs turned out to be tiny compared with other archdioceses' experience.

The Boston Archdiocese, for example, while about four times bigger than New Orleans, paid $30 million to $40 million during the past decade, before the current abuse crisis exploded.

It paid another $10 million to settle claims against one former priest, John Geoghan, the Boston Globe has reported, and backed out of a deal to settle with the rest of his 130 victims for another $15 million. Hundreds of additional suits are pending.

The New Orleans Archdiocese's claim that it found only 12 credible cases in 1,000 examined careers also compares favorably with low-end estimates of the prevalence of child abusers in the Catholic priesthood.

The 1 percent rate compares with one researcher's estimate that 2 percent of priests have sexually abused minors. That number, developed by Pennsylvania State University sociologist Philip Jenkins from a study of sexual abuse among Chicago priests, has been widely circulated among Catholics as evidence abuse in the priesthood is not significantly worse than among clergy of other faiths.

Former priests omitted

Maestri acknowledged Friday the 12 cases of suspected or known abusers is somewhat low because an independent lay review panel looked only at the files of men still in the priesthood.

That means their count did not include people such as former priest Dino Cinel, who made videotapes of sexual activity with teen-agers in an Uptown rectory in the 1980s, or the Rev. Patrick Keane, a former Metairie priest who in 1995 admitted to molesting a teen-ager in 1980.

Even so, the number would likely not climb much, Maestri said. And while that might be good news, he would not permit himself to seem relieved.

"One is too much," he said.

Bruce Nolan may be reached at or (504) 826-3344.


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