After generations of unanswered pleas for help from victims and their families, after decades of stubborn resistance to lawsuits filed in the victims’ behalf, and after a series of court rulings against them, almost all the dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church in America have finally released lists of priests or other church-connected people “credibly accused” of sexual predation.
According to the Associated Press (AP), 30 dioceses have not. 20 told AP they are planning or at least considering releasing the names of the “credibly accused.” 10 haven’t said a word – they include the dioceses of the states of Idaho and Hawaii, eastern Oregon and most of Florida.
More than 5000 names have been made public, but many on the list had died before they could be shamed. But what about the “credibly accused” sexual predators who still live among us? What happened to them?
A nine-month, in-depth AP investigation involving a dozen journalists offers the best answers yet to those questions. AP “review[ed] the status of nearly 2,000 Roman Catholic clergy members and church employees credibly accused of sex abuse” and found that the vast majority were living unsupervised by the church or law enforcement authorities.
So what? Here AP found good news and bad news. Good news? For a vast majority of the accused men, supervision seems to have been unnecessary. The crime rate among the accused clergy is relatively low. Bad news: for the minority for whom supervision would be a good idea, the “more than 310 [who] had been criminally charged for actions committed during their time as priests,” the AP found “only 85” are even registered as sex offenders.
Why such a loose leash on people “credibly accused” of sexual abuse? Because, legally and morally, “credibly accused,” a vague standard that varies from diocese to diocese, is very different from “criminally charged,” much less from “convicted.”
Until you get past that last, criminal conviction, you’re talking about a legally innocent person. So, how much law enforcement supervision can be legally imposed? And who should do the supervising? With a few notable exceptions, AP found the Church is excusing itself from that task, washing its hands of the “credibly accused” sinners, after all those decades of providing them cover.
Claudia Lauer is an Enterprise and breaking news reporter at The Associated Press, based in Philadelphia.