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Why were hundreds of accused priests left off public lists?

It was 18 years ago when dioceses and religious orders across the country began publicly releasing the names of clergy members credibly accused of sexually abusing children. Facing increasing scrutiny, these public releases were made under the banner of disclosure and transparency, or as a condition of a settlement.

But a new analysis reveals these public lists may not have been as transparent as once thought.

More than 900 accused clergy members left off lists

This report comes from the Associated Press, which pored through the 5,300 names included in public lists of credibly accused Catholic priests. They then compared those to names found in other sources, such as legal or court documents. The findings are quite troubling.

The analysis uncovered more than 900 clergy members that had been accused of sexually abusing a child, yet did not appear on a single publicly released list of credibly accused priests. More than 100 of them were not on any list despite being criminally charged.

There was a former Catholic priest, for example, who:

  • Was convicted after being caught with child pornography
  • Violated his probation by later being in contact with children
  • Admitted to masturbating near a church school
  • Was put on a sex offender registry in 2005

Despite all of this, his name did not appear on a single list of credibly accused priests released by a diocese or religious order. (His name was later added after the Associated Press asked about him in December of 2019.)

How did this happen?

In the story, a few reasons are offered for how this might have happened. Some churches have weighed the possibility of a lawsuit should they release the name of a priest that vehemently denies any allegations. Other times it has come down to technicalities.

Some dioceses require a survivor to file an official complaint, for example. Others relied on rulings from church boards that determined the accusations were not credible. And in some cases, the accused priest has died and was therefore unable to respond to the claims.

Unfortunately, these types of reports outlining questionable decisions in response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis are nothing new.

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