Another Abuse Suspension in Fall River Renews Call for List of Accused Priests
The Diocese of Fall River is one of the few remaining Catholic dioceses in this country that has not published a list of accused priests. So far, more than 150 US dioceses have named names. Not so in Fall River, a diocese that yesterday saw its fifth priest since November removed from active ministry because of allegations of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct.
Fr. Herbert T. Nichols was suspended from ministry on Sunday after allegations against him of sexual abuse of a minor surfaced. We are told that Fall River diocesan officials are investigating the allegations, but what good is an investigation if the results are never publicly released? We already believe that internal, church-run reviews are never as rigorous as secular probes, and this would be even more so in a diocese like Fall River that has shown such reticence to be transparent with the public.
According to the Associated Press, almost 40 percent of all accused, listed priests are alive, and many of them live and work around children. There is no magical age at which a perpetrator stops abusing, so living abusers may be dangerous no matter how old they are. Many of these men are living under the radar with little to no oversight from religious authorities or law enforcement, and nearby residents are completely unaware of the potential for danger that lurks in their communities.
There is no reason for a Catholic diocese to refuse to release a list of the accused, unless it is trying to protect its reputation instead of protecting children. Choosing secrecy over transparency and keeping names secret may benefit the diocese, but it leaves the vulnerable at grave risk.
Fall River needs to be transparent and show us and the public that it has complied with the Dallas Charter and with secular child abuse reporting laws. The diocese could even release the names it knows will be on the list immediately, and add to it as others are determined to be abusers. Until Fall River releases their names, it seems very likely that there may well be accused priests still in active ministry, or clerics who were quietly put out to pasture who are living among unsuspecting families and remain a threat.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley is close to Pope Francis and heads the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. As the Metropolitan over Fall River, he should exert his authority and urge the diocese to publish a list. Alternatively, State Attorney General Maura Healey should step in and undertake a comprehensive investigation as is being done by Dana Nessel in Michigan and as was done by Josh Shapiro in Pennsylvania.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)