In the most significant week in many years in the U.S. Catholic church’s ongoing sexual abuse crisis, the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., added a dramatic statement Wednesday.
The diocese published a list of 71 clergymen and seminarians who have been accused of sexual abuse of children. And the current bishop, Ronald Gainer, announced that because his predecessors failed to protect children from these dozens of predators, he would remove the names of every bishop since 1947 from every building and room in the diocese named in their honor.
The Harrisburg diocese is one of six in Pennsylvania enmeshed in a state Supreme Court fight over the pending release of a major grand jury investigation, the largest state-led inquiry ever conducted into clergy sexual abuse. The grand jury’s report, which is expected to be released this month after some named in it fought to prevent its release, totals 900 pages and describes abuse by 300 clergymen.
Gainer said he prepared the list of 71 accused clergymen two years ago but waited to publish it until the grand jury concluded its investigation at the request of the state attorney general’s office.
The publication of the list Wednesday comes on the heels of the historic resignation from the College of Cardinals on Saturday of Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington and the first cardinal to resign over sexual abuse allegations. McCarrick stands accused of sexually harassing at least two minors and three adults, and will face a canonical trial overseen by the Vatican.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops published a statement on the steps that the nation’s bishops will take after McCarrick’s resignation.
“The accusations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick reveal a grievous moral failure within the Church. They cause bishops anger, sadness, and shame,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Texas, who leads the body, wrote in the statement.
DiNardo said church leaders are holding meetings to investigate numerous questions raised by the reports of McCarrick’s conduct, including why allegations against McCarrick in New Jersey dioceses where he previously served weren’t reported to other church authorities, and what seminaries should do to protect students, such as the young priests-in-training upon whom McCarrick allegedly preyed.
In Harrisburg, Gainer wrote specifically of abuse in his diocese dating back decades: “The Diocese has unfortunately, at times, been the home of men originally called to the service of God who, for reasons unknown and unfathomable, instead ignored that summons and turned to the pursuit of heinous personal ends. That conduct has left a legacy of pain and sorrow that is still being felt.”
The chart published Wednesday by the Harrisburg diocese documents the 71 accused men in detail. Twenty-five are alive, and the status of four more remains unknown. At least 22 were accused of abusing multiple children. The chart gives specifics in many cases, including descriptions of the abuse, information about where it took place and whether it led to criminal complaints.
Because of inadequate historical records, not all of the allegations have been investigated, Gainer wrote; the list simply documents that the men have been accused. That includes men who were accused only after their deaths. “While these men are not a risk to the public, I still felt compelled to release their names in an effort to confirm for those brave survivors . . . that we have heard their cries and taken them seriously,” he wrote.
In a different letter, he wrote at length of his sorrow for each child who was harmed, and explained his decision to remove the bishops’ names from buildings.
He also said the Harrisburg diocese sometimes reached settlements with victims before 2002 that included a requirement of confidentiality. In his letter Wednesday, he formally released all survivors from that agreement so that they can talk openly about their abuse.