North Dakota Dioceses Release Lists of Accused Clergy, SNAP Responds
Finally, in a long-overdue move prompted by pressure from the public and parishioners, two Catholic dioceses in North Dakota have released lists of clergy accused of sexually abusing children.
The Diocese of Fargo and the Diocese of Bismarck both released lists of priests who have abused children. Unfortunately, both lists are lacking in critical detail and should be updated immediately if church leaders in these dioceses want to truly be open and honest with their parishioners.
In the Diocese of Fargo, the list contains the names of 31 abusive priests, deacons and religious order brothers. While it is appropriate that the diocese took steps to include the names of religious order brothers as well as clergy who spent time in Fargo but were accused of abuse elsewhere, the list contains precious little detail that is helpful in either protecting children or helping survivors come forward and heal. In Fargo, Catholic officials have opted not to include work histories and photographs of the accused, information that can help communities know to look within their own ranks for survivors suffering in silence. Even more critically, the list does not contain any information related to what steps church leaders took upon learning of each allegation.
Only when we know what went wrong in the past can we know how to prevent it in the future, and absent any information about how and when the diocese reported allegations to police, we can only assume that such reports were delayed or never made at all. This has been the case in nearly every diocese that has been subjected to a secular investigation by law enforcement. Given the lack of transparency displayed by Catholic officials in Fargo, we assume the same has happened there.
It is also notable that church leaders in Fargo have chosen to not list the names of priests who committed crimes against adults. Sexual assault is a crime no matter who it happens to, and by choosing to ignore those men who targeted adults, Catholic officials in Fargo have actively chosen to release an incomplete list. We call on them to immediately update their list to include the names of priests like Fr. Michael Wight and others who used their power to abuse adults.
Finally, we note that there are at least three priests exposed publicly that were not included on Fargo’s list – Fr. Jack Herron, Fr. Wenceslaus Katanga, and Fr. Charles Fischer, Jr. We call on Catholic officials in Fargo to explain their exclusion from this list.
In Bismarck, church leaders released the names of 22 clerics accused of abuse, but, like their counterparts in Fargo, declined to include important information about their work history, photographs, and when the allegations against each were received and what actions were taken in response. To release a list in such an incomplete state feels to us that it is more of a public relations ploy done to appease the public rather than to try and give a full and honest accounting of the scope of this problem. Catholic officials in Bismarck should immediately update this list to include this important information so that parishioners and the public are better informed and communities in North Dakota will be safer.
Now that these lists have been published, we call on church leaders in both Fargo and Bismarck to widely publicize the information by including it in parish bulletins and on parish websites, and permanently and prominently displaying it on diocesan websites. And when these lists inevitably get updated with the missing information and the additional names that are sure to come out, we hope Catholic officials will make those updates public in the same way.
Finally, we hope that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is watching these releases, will see the same lack of transparency that we see, and will use the power of his office to initiate a investigation. Outside investigations by secular officials like A.G. Stenehjem are the only way to truly get to the bottom of this issue, and today’s release shows that Catholic officials in North Dakota are not willing to be open and honest on their own.
CONTACT: Zach Hiner, Executive Director (firstname.lastname@example.org, 517-974-9009)
(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)