St. Cloud, Minn. — For at least the last 10 years, Catholic dioceses across the country have created lists of priests credibly accused of sexual misconduct.
The lists have long been kept private by church officials. But over the last decade, dioceses in San Diego, Chicago, Boston and other cities have released such lists, largely under pressure.
None of the six dioceses in Minnesota have yet published the names of the priests credibly accused. But some want that to change.
Among them is St. Paul Attorney Jeff Anderson, who is well-known for representing victims and alleged victims of sexual abuse. As part of a settlement he reached last year with St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, the abbey released the names of 18 monks credibly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct.
Through a pending lawsuit, Anderson obtained copies of the lists held by the Diocese of Winona and the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Anderson has urged church officials to release the list and tried to seek them through the courts. “In the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis there are 33 priests and former priests on that list who are credibly accused and 13 from the Diocese of Winona,” said Anderson, who notes that none are in active ministry. “All are in the communities, if they’re still alive, and most are yet to be known publicly.”
The Diocese of Winona declined to comment.
Father Kevin McDonough, who works with a team focused on safety Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul, said the Archdiocese has worked to prevent sexual abuse and help victims of abuse since the mid-1980s.
McDonough said even though the Archdiocese provided Anderson with a court-ordered list of credibly accused priests, it doesn’t maintain one for its own prevention and monitoring efforts. He said lists tend to become a source of controversy because they become the focus of those who question whether the church keeps accurate and thorough records of all abuse allegations.
A fraction of the Catholic dioceses in the United States have in some way made public the names of priests accused of sexual abuse, in the vast majority of cases either required to or coaxed through lawsuits.
Supporters of public disclosure argue releasing the names protects the public from unknown offenders and gives victims of abuse a sense of closure.
Terrance McKiernan, founder of BishopAccountability.org, a nonprofit group that documents abuse cases in the Catholic Church, said 24 out of 195 dioceses in the United States have released lists to the public.
“They still have a long way to go, both in terms of how many are not doing it yet, and in terms of the quality of the lists, which in most cases leaves a lot to be desired,” he said.
McKiernan’s organization has publicly documented cases of abuse against more than 3,000 priests. Annual reports from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops suggest that the number could be several thousand higher, although the group doesn’t name accused priests.
In dioceses where lists have been released, McKiernan said, they contain few surprises, typically confirming the names already assembled by news organizations or survivor groups. He said in the interest of public safety, the church should release names of priests in all credible cases of which officials are aware.
“The bishops are the ones with the complete information,” he said. “And in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the bishops could make a real difference because not all the names are known.”
McDonough, of the safety team, said the dioceses that have released lists tend to be places like Boston, with histories of stonewalling.
“The list making and publication that’s happened in some places has not resolved the trustworthiness questions,” he said.
Although McDonough acknowledges the concerns over public safety, he said cases of abuse in Minnesota are well documented. He said archdiocese officials have spoken with parishioners about the abuse and what the church can do about it in a way that protects privacy.
To McDonough, the church has adopted effective measures against abuse, ones that eliminate the need for public lists of abusive priests.
McDonough said that while archdiocese officials aren’t yet inclined to publicize names of credibly accused priests, he wouldn’t rule that out in the future.