SNAP Applauds as States use Catholic Clergy Abuse Lists to Screen Applicants

According to a news report from KZRG, at least 20 states have begun using Catholic lists of those clerics “credibly accused” of child sexual abuse when screening former priests for employment. We applaud this move and hope that officials in every state and territory in the U.S. will do the same.

The "playbook," as described by A.G. Josh Shapiro in his 2018 grand jury report, detailed the ways that Catholic officials ensured that clergy who had abused children had their crimes hidden from the public and avoided criminal charges. Since 1950, very few priests have been prosecuted for abusing children because this strategy was so effective. This “circle of secrecy” allowed scores of abusers to avoid prosecution and having their name and crime listed on a sex-offender registry.

Making matters worse, recent investigations by the Associated Press and USA Today have shown that many abusive priests who left or were forced out of ministry went on to find jobs that gave them access to children. And, as A.G. Shapiro’s report showed, not only are those abusers not monitored, but they also move around the country to escape their past and the allegations against them. The 301 abusive clerics identified in the Pennsylvania report spread to 25 other states and 3 other countries. Clearly, the diaspora of abusers is a concern for every community.

These factors make it clear that there is a need to vet former clergy for jobs that put them in a position of power. The lists that Catholic officials have released have been combined into one database, compiled by ProPublica, that contains more than 5,300 names. That translates to thousands of abusers who are not monitored and who could be quietly gaining new access to vulnerable populations.

Using the lists released by church entities to vet former clergy for employment can help protect children and vulnerable adults from being hurt by someone with a history of abuse. We support this move and hope that government officials will mandate this additional vetting nationwide.

Unfortunately, we know that the lists released by Catholic officials are often woefully inadequate, so there are certainly abusive clergy who are living and working in communities without anyone being aware of their history. But any step towards greater safety for children and scrutiny for important positions like teachers, counselors, or foster care providers is a step that we support.

This news also points to the need for attorneys general in every state to follow in the footsteps of A.G. Shapiro and start their own secular investigation into clergy abuse. The most information about cases of clergy abuse have been made public not by church entities, but by secular ones. The vulnerable are best protected when communities are informed, and that can happen best when law enforcement officials use the full power of their offices to investigate cases of clergy abuse and publicize their findings. Every sitting A.G. in the United States should take steps towards initiating this kind of investigation today.

CONTACT: Zach Hiner, Executive Director (517-974-9009, zhiner@snapnetwork.org)

(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)


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