Victims of sexual abuse by priests, advocates say, still feel alone. That painful sense of solitude persists even 14 years after the Boston Globe documented a massive cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, setting off a wave of exposés across the country that continue until this day. Even now, some victims think that they were the only one hurt by a particular priest.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore just took a step to address that pain by joining the growing number of dioceses that have posted a list, all in one place, of priests who have been accused in the diocese, some dating back decades. This step is important, advocates say, so that when victims who have suffered in silence type their abusers’ names into Google, they will see that these men have been accused by others as well.
“The primary motivation in publicly disclosing an allegation is to encourage anyone else who may have been a victim of that individual to come forward,” archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine said. “We’ve heard from victim-surviors that one main obstacle is the sense that they’re alone. They’re the only one. They won’t be believed.”
Thanks to the list, Caine said, that feeling might be diminished. “They’re empowered to find out that other people have alleged against the same person.”
The Baltimore archdiocese was among the first in the country to publicly list its accused priests, shortly after the Globe’s revelations in 2002. That list included 57 priests.
But Caine said that list was never meant to be permanent. It eventually disappeared from the archdiocese’s website.
Victims and advocates told church officials that they wanted not just the press releases that the archdiocese published each time it learned of a new credible accusation, but also a permanent, updating list, Caine said. Archbishop William E. Lori decided this year to honor that request. He published a comprehensive list in January, with the original 57 names plus 14 more who had been named in press releases in the past 14 years.
The archdiocese did not announce the new list, and few people noticed it at first. The Baltimore Sun reported on it on Monday.
Frank Dingle, the Baltimore director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said a comprehensive list on an official church site is an important first step for many people confronting their abuse. “I think that people find the courage or put themselves in a better place in their life and then they go looking” to see if the Church has acknowledged any accusations against their abuser, he said. In most dioceses, they will not find one.
Now, in Baltimore, they will. Elsewhere, many dioceses do not have such a webpage, even if they might publicly disclose individual accusations of abuse when they are verified.
The organization BishopAccountability.org, which calls for dioceses to name accused abusers, estimates that just 31 out of more than 170 Catholic dioceses in the country have a public list. Two sources who have worked with the U.S. Catholic church said that that number seems roughly accurate.
The organization’s president Terence McKiernan praised the Baltimore list for including a paragraph about the accusation against every priest on the list. Visitors to the website can read it by holding their cursor above the priest’s name. “I think it’s to Lori’s credit,” McKiernan said. “Baltimore’s unusual in actually saying something about what the allegations are.”
That public documentation is powerful for survivors, he said. “There are various ways in which the Church has over the years really limited everyone’s knowledge of this, and survivors are very, very aware of that. And when the Church finally says, okay, we’re not doing that anymore, that is a huge relief. It really lifts a terrible burden.”