Catholic audit raises complex issues of how to supervise pedo priests
January 19, 2004
NEW YORK — The church review of whether Roman Catholic bishops are doing enough to prevent sex abuse showed that at least 150 credibly accused priests had moved out of their dioceses, raising worries that offenders are living unsupervised in places where most people
know nothing about them.
Among those 150 priests, auditors learned that 10 clergymen had
left the country, some returning to home dioceses overseas, and at
least four could not be found. The report did not specify the
countries where they relocated.
The whereabouts of the rest of the group are known to church
leaders, and the report said that, where possible, bishops had
complied with their new policy and sent confidential notices to the
priests' new dioceses.
But victim advocates say that sending a private letter is not
enough. The church is leaving potentially dangerous offenders
roaming around unsuspecting communities, they say.
Church leaders acknowledge they are still struggling with
properly tracking and supervising those men.
"That's a very complex issue," said Kathleen McChesney, director
of the bishops' new watchdog Office of Child and Youth Protection,
who oversaw the audit.
According to the review, most of the priests who moved did so
after June 2002, when bishops, under enormous public pressure,
adopted their new plan to discipline abusers and enact safeguards
The policy bars priests found guilty by Catholic officials from
all church work, but says little about what should be done with
McChesney, a former FBI agent, said most of the accused clergy
who moved away are in their 60s, 70s and 80s, and left their
dioceses because they retired.
She said she personally contacted the dioceses where the four
priests were missing - in Santa Rosa, California; New York; and the
Eastern-rite Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn - to learn what had
"They were individuals who had virtually disappeared," she said.
Her office also tried to find priests who had returned to their
home dioceses overseas, but said in the majority of cases, "They're
Since most had never been criminally charged, law enforcement
officials could not investigate, she said.
But David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network
of those Abused by Priests, said he was just as concerned about the
status of the accused priests whose whereabouts are known.
More than 325 of the United States' 46,000 clergy have either
resigned or have been barred from church work since the crisis
erupted two years ago this month in the Archdiocese of Boston, then
Clohessy said bishops should send public notice to every parish
and all diocesan employees that an abusive priest is living in
their community, and "if he shows up at your parochial school and
offers to tutor children, and if he offers to help with confession,
don't let him."
However, many in the church worry that widespread community
notification would be unfair.
Many of the accused men had only one victim years or even
decades ago, some say. The majority are not pedophiles, who prey on
prepubescent children and are almost certain to offend again, but
instead molested adolescents and could have a better chance of
stopping their behavior, they say.
But an expert on sexual abuse who has advised the Archdiocese of
Boston said that thinking is wrong.
David Finkelhor, who directs the Crimes Against Children
Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, said few of the
Catholic cases have been vetted by law enforcement because they
came to light after the statutes of limitations had expired. That
means no official assessment has been conducted of what danger
these men pose, he said.
"I still think there are considerable opportunities for people
to get out under the radar screen," he said.
The review by McChesney's office is the first of four reports
from the bishops on the abuse crisis. The audit looked at how well
America's 195 dioceses were complying with the new sex abuse
Religious orders, which count about one-third of U.S. priests as
members, are separately taking steps such as hiring a private
company, to help them monitor guilty clergy.
Clohessy, from the Survivors Network, said he would feel more
hopeful about such efforts if law enforcement played a role.
Bishop Blase Cupich of Rapid City, South Dakota, said priests
cannot work within a diocese without the bishop's permission, so
confidential notice is sometimes enough. Cupich is on a bishops'
committee exploring whether a national database of abusive clergy
should be created.
Still, Cupich said he and other bishops often do notify law
enforcement authorities when an abusive priest moves into their
dioceses, and he sends word to his parishes if a priest who poses a
Concerns over libel and other legal matters restrict how much
the bishops can say publicly, McChesney said.
"I think that bishops for the most part want to be very clear
with their people about who in fact is eligible for ministry and
who is not," Cupich said. "I would err on the side of protecting
the child." –Sapa-AP
Boston archdiocese crippled by a $85 million in sex abuse settlements [18/12/2003]
Oz pedo priest sentenced to jail for sex abuses [27/11/2003]