MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said that with a court’s permission, it plans this month to release the names of some priests who sexually abused children. Archbishop John Nienstedt said the initial disclosure will be limited to priests who live in the archdiocese and have substantiated claims of abuse of a minor.
Critics are skeptical, noting Nienstedt’s criteria excludes priests who have died, moved from the archdiocese or have been accused of abusing adults.
While Nienstedt and other church leaders have previously argued against disclosing a list of accused clergy, about two dozen other archdioceses and dioceses have done it — including Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles — in different ways.
ORIGIN OF ‘THE LIST’
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned a nationwide study published in 2004 to determine the scope of clergy sex abuse.
For the study, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis compiled a list of 33 priests deemed to have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. Attorneys for victims obtained the list in 2009, but a judge ruled they couldn’t release it. At that time, archdiocesan attorneys said all the priests already had been removed from active ministry, and 23 of them had been publicly named.
Other dioceses in Minnesota have similar lists. In 2004, Winona’s list included 13 priests, Duluth had 17, Crookston had five, New Ulm had 12 and St. Cloud’s included 26 priests. Victims’ attorney Mike Finnegan said he believes the lists have grown since 2004, but the dioceses have not disclosed updated figures.
Attorneys for victims have argued for years that these lists should be public.
Finnegan and his colleagues filed a lawsuit in Ramsey County alleging the archdiocese created a public nuisance and put kids at risk by keeping the list secret. The lawsuit seeks to make it public. Similar claims have been filed in all Minnesota dioceses.
The archdiocese was previously against disclosure, saying releasing the names could unfairly hurt priests who had been falsely accused.
But Terry McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, said that’s unlikely as dioceses nationwide have been cautious when compiling these lists. Finnegan added that in his experience, these lists contain the “worst of the worst” cases, in which top officials can’t deny that abuse happened.
“This archdiocese and other archdioceses have had some fears that it will somehow hurt their reputation,” Finnegan said. “The reality is that it has not done that in other places.”
Archdiocese spokesman Jim Accurso said church leaders are compiling a list of names to release this month, starting with living priests in the archdiocese who have substantiated claims of abuse against them.
A substantiated claim means there is sufficient evidence, or reasonable grounds, that abuse occurred, Accurso said.
He said Nienstedt is seeking court permission to make the disclosure, because of the 2009 protective order. Finnegan said the archdiocese doesn’t need permission to release its own information, but Accurso said the protective order applies to all parties.
It’s not clear whether Nienstedt’s disclosure will include new names, names that have already been in the media, or whether it will overlap with the list of 33 accused priests.
WHAT OTHERS HAVE DONE
Dioceses have taken different approaches to publicizing names of accused priests.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia publishes pictures of priests along with names, statuses and links to assignment histories.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles publishes the names and statuses of priests identified in litigation that was settled in 2007. The list also has links to the priests’ personnel files, including letters from accusers. A handful of Los Angeles priests are identified by number, after a court ordered their identities should be protected because charges weren’t substantiated, the archdiocese’s website said.
The Archdiocese of Boston lists accused clergy under several categories, including priests found guilty, priests who have been defrocked, priests currently being investigated and priests who were accused but died before criminal or canonical proceedings were completed. The lists include assignment histories. In addition, Boston publishes a list of clergy accused under unsubstantiated claims.
In a statement on the archdiocese’s website, Archbishop Sean O’Malley said in 2011 that deceased priests were included only if proceedings were completed before death, or if the priest already had been accused publicly. In the case of unsubstantiated claims, his list includes names that were already public, but not those names of priests who hadn’t been identified.
Victims’ advocates in Boston are critical of the list, saying dozens of clerics were left off.
Finnegan said while some dioceses nationwide have publicized these lists on their own, they are usually disclosed due to external pressure from the courts, survivors, lay people or clerics.
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