Catholic Leaders Promised Transparency About Child Abuse. They Haven’t Delivered.

It took 40 years and three bouts of cancer for Larry Giacalone to report his claim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a Boston priest named Richard Donahue.

Giacalone sued Donahue in 2017, alleging the priest molested him in 1976, when Giacalone was 12 and Donahue was serving at Sacred Heart Parish. The lawsuit never went to trial, but a compensation program set up by the archdiocese concluded that Giacalone “suffered physical injuries and emotional injuries as a result of physical abuse” and directed the archdiocese to pay him $73,000.

Even after the claim was settled and the compensation paid in February 2019, however, the archdiocese didn’t publish Donahue’s name on its list of accused priests. Nor did it three months later when Giacalone’s lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, criticized the church publicly for not adding Donahue’s name to the list.

Church leaders finally added Donahue to the list last month after ProPublica asked why he hadn’t been included. But that, too, sowed confusion. Despite the determination that Giacalone was entitled to compensation, Donahue’s name was added to a portion of the list for priests accused in cases deemed “unsubstantiated” — where the archdiocese says it does not have sufficient evidence to determine whether the clergy member committed the alleged abuse.

“To award a victim a substantial amount of money, yet claim that the accused is not a pedophile, is an insult to one’s intelligence,” said Garabedian, who has handled hundreds of abuse cases over the last 25 years. “It’s a classic case of the archdiocese ducking, delaying and avoiding issues.”

Donahue, in an interview with ProPublica, denied the allegation by Giacalone.

Over the last year and a half, the majority of U.S. dioceses, as well as nearly two dozen religious orders, have released lists of abusers currently or formerly in their ranks. The revelations were no coincidence: They were spurred by a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which named hundreds of priests as part of a statewide clergy abuse investigation. Nationwide, the names of more than 5,800 clergy members have been released so far, representing the most comprehensive step toward transparency yet by a Catholic Church dogged by its long history of denying and burying abuse by priests.

But even as bishops have dedicated these lists to abuse victims and depicted the disclosures as a public acknowledgement of victims’ suffering, it has become clear that numerous alleged abusers have been omitted and that there is no standard for determining who each diocese considers credibly accused.

A spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese initially said Donahue wasn’t on its list of accused priests because he was still being investigated and subsequently called the delay an “oversight.”

Even when dioceses and religious orders identify credibly accused clergy members, the information they provide about those named varies widely. Some jurisdictions turn over far more specifics about problem priests — from where they worked to the number of their victims to the details of their wrongdoing — than others.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, or USCCB, has issued no instructions on disclosures related to credibly accused priests, leaving individual dioceses and religious orders to decide for themselves how much or how little to publish. The USCCB says it does not have the authority to order dioceses to release names or to resolve disputes over who should be on the lists, though in 2002 after a scandal in Boston, the conference did put in place new protocols intended to ensure alleged abuse by clergy was reported and tracked.

“Recognizing the authority of the local bishop, and the fact that state and local laws vary, the decision of whether and how to best release lists and comply with varying civil reporting laws have been the responsibility of individual dioceses,” said Chieko Noguchi, a USCCB spokeswoman.

While the USCCB can propose policies for church leaders in the U.S., the bishops themselves are appointed by the pope and answer to him.

ProPublica has collected the 178 lists released by U.S. dioceses and religious orders as of Jan. 20 and created a searchable database that allows users to look up clergy members by name, diocese or parish. This represents the first comprehensive picture of the information released publicly by bishops around the country. Some names appear multiple times. In many cases, that accounts for priests who were accused in more than one location. In other instances, dioceses have acknowledged when priests who served in their jurisdiction have been repor...

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