Church airs list of priests accused of sexual abuse

Nearly 10 years after a worldwide clergy sexual abuse crisis erupted in the Boston Archdiocese, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley today released a long-awaited roster of 159 archdiocesan clerics who have been accused of sexually abusing children.

But O’Malley’s action was immediately criticized by Attorney General Martha Coakley and advocates for clergy abuse victims because it lists only those priests who have already been publicly accused, and omits the names of dozens of accused priests from religious orders and other dioceses, as well as those who left the priesthood before accusations were leveled againt them.

“Those names should be disclosed in the interest of the victims and public safety,’’ Coakley said. “While today was an important first step, we urge the leaders of the Archdiocese to complete this effort toward transparency and publicly disclose the names of those accused from other orders and those who were already laicized.’’

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O’Malley compiled his list after reviewing all of the abuse allegations in the files of the archdiocese, some going back as many as 70 years, Church officials said, in his most recent attempt to assure parishioners and the public that the Church is doing all in its power to protect children while assisting survivors of abusive clergy.

“The Archdiocese of Boston’s commitment and responsibility is to protect children and to ensure that the tragedy of sexual abuse is never repeated,’’ O’Malley said in a statement that accompanied a posting of the list on the official website of the archdiocese at 2 p.m. today.

O’Malley said he omitted the names of 91 additional accused archdiocesan priests, most of whom are dead and unable to answer the accusations leveled against them, as well as the names of priests from religious orders and other dioceses who have been accused of abusing children in the Boston area. Church officials said approximately 40 priests from religious orders and other dioceses have been accused of molesting children in the Boston area.

Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney who represents clergy abuse victims, said the omissions are a disservice to victims.

“It’s disappointing that Cardinal O’Malley omitted the names of 91 additional accused archdiocesan priests since naming them would allow sexual abuse victims to try and heal and perhaps understand that they were not the only ones abused by a particular priest,’’ Garabedian said.

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Leaders of BishopAccountability.org, an organization that tracks accused priests and publicly posts court records from clergy abuse lawsuits, said they believe that up to 70 priests from religious orders and other dioceses — not the 40 cited by Church officials — have been accused of molesting children in the Boston Archdiocese.

“There are many victims of Boston priests who will not find the names of their perpetrators on today’s list,’’ the organization said in a prepared statement. “Their misery and isolation will be deepened by today’s disclosure.’’

O’Malley’s tally of 250 accused clerics from the Boston Archdiocese, which he initially suggested he would air more than two years ago, surpasses previous official estimates. In 2003, former Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly completed a 16-month investigation of abuse in the Church, concluding that 237 priests and 13 additional church employees had been accused of molesting nearly 800 minors. But Reilly’s tally included an undetermined number of religous order priests, and he did not release the names of the accused.

O’Malley said the clerics on the list that he released have either been publicly accused, or have been found guilty of molesting minors after Church or civil proceedings, or have been cleared of abuse allegations.

In his statement, O’Malley said he made his decisions about which priests to include on the list after balancing “the critically important need to assure the protection of children’’ with “the due process rights and reputations of those accused clergy whose cases have not been fully adjudicated,’’ including those who are not alive and are therefore unable to defend themselves.

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O’Malley omitted the names of religious order priests and those from other dioceses, he said, because the Boston Archdiocese does not investigate or resolve allegations against them.

“That is the responsibility of the priest’s order or diocese,’’ O’Malley said, adding that it is the policy of the Boston Archdiocese to inform law enforcement authorities of any accusations of sexual misconduct by a priest from a religious order or another diocese and to bar the priest from ministering here.

Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, called O’Malley’s reasoning, “shameless hairsplitting’’ that endangers children. “This is about safeguarding innocent kids, comforting wounded adults and exposing unhealty secrecy,’’ she said. “It’s not about which individual Catholic official signs which individual Cathlic predator’s paycheck.’’

The 159 accused clerics — 157 priests and two deacons — on O’Malley’s list are posted with a searchable database with additional information that could be useful for victims still seeking to identify their abusers. For instance, the information includes dates of birth, dates of ordination, the dates when a priest may have left the priesthood, as well as the assignment history for each cleric, including postings in other dioceses. It also lists any disciplinary action that may have been taken against accused priests, including dates of conviction and dismissal from the priesthood.

O’Malley said the list would be amended as more allegations of clergy abuse are investigated and settled.

The list does not include photographs, Church officials said, in part because the physical appearance of an accused priest may have changed dramatically over the years, making identification more difficult for a survivor, and in part because photographs might encourage cases of mistaken of identity.

“We asked ourselves, ‘Would this be helpful? Would it be fair?’’ said the Rev. Richard M. Erikson, the vicar general, or number two official in the archdiocese.

Victims of clergy abuse and their advocates have been anticipating O’Malley’s action — with growing impatience — since March 2009, when O’Malley released a six-page letter outlining a series of policies designed to make abuse prevention and detection a permanent part of the archdiocesan bureaucracy.

Those policies include training for children and Church employees, and criminal background checks for all priests, deacons, educators, volunteers, and other Church personnel who work with children.

In his 2009 letter, O’Malley suggested that the archdiocese was on the verge of publishing a list of priests accused of abuse, along with information on the status of the accusations they were facing.

“This is a complex issue,’’ O’Malley wrote at the time. “However, my expectation is that in the very near future we will be in a position to report a revision of present archdiocesan policy on this subject.’’

After more than a year passed, the impatience with O’Malley came to head when attorney Mitchell Garabedian, in January, posted a list on his law firm’s web site of 117 priests and other church employees who, Garabedian said, were accused of sexual abuse by one or more of his clients.

Church officials, underscoring the complexity of compiling such a list, said that abuse allegations against three of the individuals on Garabedian’s list were found to be unsubstantiated.

But Garabedian said today that the Church made financial payments to settle the accusations against all of the priests on his list.

O’Malley said his list includes the names of 159 priests who:

* Have been found guilty of sexually abusing a child, either by the Church or civil authorities.

* Have been publicly accused of sexual abuse, either by the Church, attorneys, or in news media accounts, or by groups that advocate for survivors, such at bishopaccountability.org, which routinely posts court documents and the identities of accused priests on its website.

* Have died and have been publicly accused of sexual abuse, even if no Church or civil action was taken against them while they were living.

* Have been exonerated of sexual abuse allegations, either after a preliminary investigatin or complete Church trials.

Of the 91 accused priests omitted from O’Malley’s list:

* 62 are dead, have never been publicly accused of abuse, and have never been investigated by Church officials.

* 22 faced accusations that could not be substantiated.

* 4 are the subject of preliminary investigations and are no longer in active ministry.

* 3 are former priests who have not been publicly accused of abuse.

Church officials said that 25 priests were cleared of abuse allegation and that some have been returned to active ministry.

To see a boston.com list of the priests named by O’Malley, click here. To go to the archdiocese’s website and view a searchable database, click here.

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