150 Abusive Priests Have Quietly Moved, Says Church Report
For immediate release:
Thursday, January 8, 2004
For more information:
David Clohessy 314 566 9790
Barbara Blaine 312 399 4747
Mark Serrano 703 771 9606, 703 727 4940
Bishops Apparently Warn No Police, Prosecutors or Parishioners
Continued Secrecy Keeps Catholic Kids At Risk, Group Says
SNAP Renews Call For National Data Base of Molesters
During the last 18 months, at least 150 Catholic priests from 56 dioceses who were removed or retired facing credible sexual abuse allegations have quietly moved away, according to a church-sponsored report released two days ago.
In at least 138 cases, according to the report, the perpetrators went to other American dioceses. In at least ten cases, offending priests left the country: Metuchen NJ, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Antonio (4), San Bernardino and Santa Rosa CA (3).
In at least four cases, bishops claimed they had lost track of the abusers: Brooklyn, New York, Philadelphia and Santa Rosa, and St. Maron.
Eight dioceses admit priests have moved but refuse to say how many. They include Amarillo, Dallas, Joliet, Philadelphia, Rockville Centre, Saginaw, Yakima, and Youngstown.
The dioceses with the most cases of priests who've moved include New York (16), Boston (12), Jefferson City MO (6), Newark (5), Bridgeport (5), and Manchester NH (5).
"Catholics who have recently met or befriended priests from these dioceses need to safeguard their children and push their bishops for honest answers," said Janet Patterson of Conway Springs Kansas. Patterson, whose son took his own life after having been molested by a priest, leads the Kansas Chapter of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
In all of these cases, the moves took place after June of 2002, when bishops emphatically pledged "to deal with this problem strongly, consistently and effectively in the future."
In the new 418 page document, there is no sign that police, prosecutors, parishioners or even church employees were were notified about these molesters. Nor is mention is made about where the men are moving. In many but not all cases, the cleric's supervising bishop "confidentially" contacted the bishop of the diocese to which the suspended cleric moved.
There is likewise no evidence that, as in the past, the priests are being transferred by their bishops or are currently working in parishes. Still, leaders of the nation's largest suppport group for clergy abuse victims maintain that the situation leaves kids at risk and that the actual number of abusive priests who have moved is much higher.
"It's obviously worse if an abuser is secretly transferred and keeps working in a church setting," Patterson believes. "But if a child molester moves quietly on his own, the result is the essentially the same: devout, unsuspecting Catholic parishioners start trusting a seemingly warm and charismatic priest, and kids end up being molested," she said.
"Catholic parents deserve and Catholic children need a clear warning 'A known or suspected child molester has moved into your parish or neighborhood,'" Patterson said. "This is the bare minimum."
The new report, commissioned by the bishops at their national conference in Dallas in June, focuses heavily on what SNAP calls "policies, procedures and paperwork." But these "superficial steps seem meaningless if bishops are not doing 'job one' - notifying police, prosecutors, parishioners or even other church workers that a dangerous man is now nearby," said SNAP's Founder and President, Barbara Blaine of Chicago.
Sometimes alleged molesters become publicly known when they are criminally charged or civilly sued. Other times, bishops publicly announce they are removing a priest because of one or more credible accusations. In all those instances, often news media publicly identify the alleged abuser, and parents can then choose to keep their youngsters away from those priests around. But once a priest moves hundreds or thousands of miles away, few will be aware of his past.
Even though the vast majority of removed clerics have not been criminally convicted of a crime, SNAP believes church leaders have a duty to warn others who live or work near or with these men. "To do otherwise is to put innocent, precious kids in harms' way again," said David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP's national director.
"If a bishop cares enough about kids in his own diocese to remove a credibly accused priest, don't kids a few hundreds miles away also deserve protection?" he said.
According to the report's summary (chapter 3, page 21), "There were instances of priests who had committed an act of sexual abuse of a minor who had relocated for resident to another diocese. Where not already provided, bishopes were instructed to provide the relevant background information to the bishop of the diocese of residence."
"This pattern - abusers quietly going from one diocese to another - is precisely what enabled so many priests to wound so many kids," Patterson said. "It's frightening that this is still happening."
SNAP also renewed it's call for several reforms, including:
- Having each local diocese keep a list of known and suspected abusive priests on its web site, like Baltmore's Cardinal William Keeler did last year.
- Compiling and publicizing an Internet-based national database of the names and whereabouts of known and credibly accused sexually abusive priests. This would enable parents, and law enforcement, to track the whereabouts of these offenders, including those who have left the priesthood and gone into fields where they are around children, such as teaching, Social work, and volunteer organizations. The database should be regularly updated.
- Extending or eliminating rigid time limits that prevent prosecuting molesters.
Unlike the controversial recent church-sponsored "audit," these improvements will help "track dangerous predators, as opposed to track diocesan paperwork," said Clohessy.
Report Is Faulted
"This report wasn't very clear about how many of these serious risks bishops are taking even today," Blaine adds. "Nor did it strongly condemn such irresponsible behavior. There is no chart or graph or summary. One has to read each of the 194 diocesan reports to pull these numbers together. "Worst of all, there's no listing of the dioceses where these molesters have now landed," she said.
The report claims that only one diocese, _____, "has transferred" a known or suspected abuser since June of 2002. But SNAP members are skeptical.
"How can the so-called auditors make this claim, especially when they repeatedly admitted that they relied primarily on talks with church employees and leaders and didn't even look at personnel files," Blaine said. "It's naive to think that a bishop who had hidden abusers for decades would voluntarily confess to having transferred one recently."
Numbers Are Low
SNAP strongly believes these numbers are "very low," for seveal reasons:
1) since some of the on-site visits to dioceses began more than six months ago, other abusers have certain moved since then, 2) reports for eight dioceses failed to mention whether abusers had moved, 3) reports for six dioceses admitted some abusers had moved but failed to disclose how many. 4) no figures were included BEFORE June of 2002, and 6) it's hard to imagine that every bishop is telling the whole truth, SNAP leaders claim.
The ultimate solution, SNAP believes, is extending or eliminating the "arbitrary and dangerous" time limits that prevent most victims from pursuing criminal and civil prosecution of their molesters. These laws, called "statutes of limitations," vary wildly from state to state, usually requiring victims to seek legal redress while in their early 20s.
But often it takes years for victims to realize that they've been harmed, that the damage is severe, that they have legal options, and that abusers usually keep offending and must be stopped. Then, victims must gather the emotional strength to begin seeking justice. By that time, too much time has elapsed, and the overwhelming majority of victims are barred can no longer use the courts to expose and remove their perpetrators.
"Kids are safest when child molesters are locked up," Patterson said.
"There is no more effective way to protect kids than to change these antiquated laws," she said. "By letting our time-tested, impartial justice system work, everyone - kids, bishops, and innocent priests - benefits."
In the last two years, California and Illinois are among the few states that have reformed statutes of limitations. However, at least three bishops in those states (Stockton CA, Springfield IL, and Joliet IL) are starting legal battles to overturn these new laws.
Notifying Other Church Workers
At the very least, SNAP maintains, diocesan and parish employees in an area need to know when an abusive priest moves close by. "Otherwise, a genial, newly-arrived priest claims to be on sick leave, visiting relatives or retired. He then lures in a typical welcoming Catholic family, sometimes tutoring in a parish school, helping with confessions or home visits, or even substituting for fellow priest during busy seasons. Parents end up betrayed and children end up hurt," Blaine said.
According to Article 14 of the Charter, when a priest-perpetrator moves into another diocese, whether to work or just live, the "sending" bishop is obligated to notify the "receiving" bishop. However, there is no requirement that the bishop of a diocese of residence do anything with this information or alert his flock. This week's church sponsored report shows no evidence that any bishops in the dioceses of residence took any action to warn others of these molesters.