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Archdiocese Braces Parish Leaders For Disclosure

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(credit: Jupiter Images)

(credit: Jupiter Images)

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Nearly half the parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have been served by priests who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor.

In an email sent Wednesday to priests and parish leaders, the archdiocese said 92 parishes have had at least one accused priest assigned to them at some point. The email, obtained by The Associated Press, was designed to brace parish leaders for Thursday’s disclosure of the names of at least 29 priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse.

There are currently 188 parishes in the archdiocese, which serves about 825,000 Catholics. There were 213 parishes in 2010, before several merged.

The affected parishes were notified in a separate email. The main email offers reassurances to others, saying if they didn’t receive a notification, “that means that none of the men who will be disclosed this week were ever assigned at your parish in the past.”

The number isn’t shocking, said Mike Finnegan, an attorney who has worked on several clergy abuse cases.

“This archdiocese did move around priests for a number of years and conceal their crimes, so there are a number of different communities and people that were affected,” he said.

The names are part of a list compiled in 2004 as part of a nationwide study to determine the scope of clergy sex abuse. Across the country, roughly two dozen archdioceses and dioceses have already made such lists public.

The archdiocese has said most of the allegations relate to reported incidents that occurred from the mid-1950s to the 1980s. All have been permanently removed from ministry or are deceased, and most have already been publicly named.

Attorneys for victims of clergy sexual abuse sought for years to make the list public, arguing it’s in the interest of public safety. But church leaders resisted until now, saying it could harm the reputations of wrongly accused priests. They argued the term “credibly accused,” coined by the 2004 study, has a low threshold and meant that any report of abuse that was “not implausible” was included.

In the email, the Rev. Charles Lachowitzer wrote that the archdiocese plans to send parish leaders another email Thursday that will include a question-and-answer sheet and a pulpit announcement for use at all Masses this weekend.

“It continues to be a very challenging and stressful time for all of us in our local Church. However, I am confident that we are making the right decisions in the interest of honesty, transparency and justice,” the email said. “We are especially focused on our goals to protect the young and vulnerable, care for the victims of abuse, and begin a healing process to restore trust …. These goals are guiding our decisions and actions.”

There are 33 names on the archdiocese’s list. Of the four whose names might not be released, one was a member of a religious order and there’s no information showing he served in the archdiocese, archdiocese attorney Tom Wieser said this week. The other three are priests for whom the archdiocese says the allegations can’t be substantiated.

Jen Swanson, a Twin Cities-area Catholic, is no longer active in the church, but will be looking at the list Thursday.

“I think it’s going to be devastating for a lot of families. They are going to see names on there and they are going to question whether or not anything happened 10, 20, 30 years ago,” the 39-year-old said, adding: “I’m proud of our archdiocese for finally just committing to this and doing it. … Let’s just open it up.”

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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