Since the 2018 publication of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report about the sexual abuse of minors in Catholic dioceses across the state, other bishops in dioceses nationwide yielded to public pressure and finally began to post lists of priests they have determined to be “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors.
These lists are far from perfect, in actuality, they are far from comprehensive. Many dioceses only listed living priests. Some bishops refused to include priests who had been arrested. Religious orders (groups of priests like the Salesians and the Franciscans) refused to publish lists all together. The Archdiocese of San Francisco is one of the few dioceses that has refused to publish a list.
Why are these lists so important for everyone, survivors and non-survivors, Catholics and non-Catholics alike?
Let’s tackle the top five reasons:
- Publishing and updating lists can serve as a deterrent to predators
The Catholic Church has been protecting and enabling predator clerics for decades—perhaps even centuries. Predators and potential predators subscribed to the position that a job in the church will keep them safe and protected from law enforcement and exposure. When bishops do the simple and easy thing, publishing and updating lists of predators (even incomplete lists), they are sending a message to predators that they may be exposed for who they really are.
- These lists force bishops to follow their own rules about transparency and child safety
Catholic bishops across the United States made a promise to be transparent about abuse. A promise that, for the most part, they have NOT kept. Although a very small step, publishing lists is the easiest way for bishops to start to keep that promise and be transparent to the public.
- These lists convince lawmakers that legislative change is necessary to protect children
In 2019, an Associated Press investigation found that more than 900 priests were missing from lists published to date. More than 10% of those had been convicted of child sex crimes. Reports by advocates (including Jeff Anderson & Associates) have found hundreds of additional predators.
When these lists and discrepancies are exposed, lawmakers see that the cover-up of child sexual abuse and the trafficking of children happened, and is still happening, in their districts. That gives legislators at every level the evidence and impetus they need to enact stronger, victim-friendly laws (like the California Child Victims Act) that expose predators and keep children safer from abuse.
- Publishing lists validates survivors’ accounts of abuse
Child sexual abuse is a crime of shame and secrecy. The vast majority of survivors believe that they are the “only one” or that “no one will believe them” if they come forward. When survivors see the name of the person who abused them on a list, they gain the confidence and support to come forward, get help, and seek justice and accountability. At the same time, when predators’ names are NOT on these lists, survivors can feel empowered to stand up and take action to alert the public and make sure that every cleric who abused a child is exposed and held accountable.
- Publishing lists of accused exposes predators working with children RIGHT NOW.
Discovering that an accused predator on a list is currently an active teacher, counselor, priest, or coach is painfully common. In fact, the only reason that all of us—Catholics and non-Catholics alike—don’t know who the predators are and who poses a risk is because the Catholic Church, and many other institutions, are not releasing the information.
These credibly accused lists are often times the first time that communities are aware of potential predators in their community that may currently have access to their children. The more accurate and complete these lists are, the more we can prevent additional children from being abused.