When the Archdiocese of Baltimore first voluntarily published a list of its priests who had been accused of abusing children, shortly after the Boston Globe’s 2002 exposé of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, it was one of the first dioceses in the world to come forward with such a list.
But the list published in 2002, of 57 clergymen, left out many priests alleged to have abused children. In part, that was due to a decision made at the time to leave out the name of any priest who had died before his accuser came forward — amid the concern that the priest never had a chance to defend his name.
On Wednesday, the archdiocese reversed that decision, publishing the names of 23 deceased priests who had been “credibly accused” of abusing children. With other additions over the years, the list now includes 126 clergy members.
“For victims, having that name out there, it’s a public sign that they’ve been believed,” said Sean Caine, a spokesman for the archdiocese and a member of the committee that combed through files to identify the men who had not been previously named.
Caine said that the review board, a lay commission appointed to adjudicate abuse claims in the archdiocese, and Archbishop William Lori decided after last year’s Pennsylvania grand jury report — which revealed decades of abuse in that state and inspired similar criminal and civil investigations nationwide — to revisit the archdiocese’s old decision not to name priests who died before they were accused. “Hearing people asking the diocese yet again — ‘Is this all we know? Is there anything else? Has the church shared everything?’ — it gave the archbishop and our review board pause, to say, ‘There’s this universe of people out there that haven’t been made public,’ ” Caine said.
Lori and the review board assigned the task to a committee of the archdiocese’s employees, most of whom were lay people, not clergy members. The committee came up with three criteria for naming a deceased priest: the man must have been accused by more than one person, been accused in a case with corroborating evidence or been accused in the press or another public venue.
Terry McKiernan, who tracks dioceses’ lists of accused clergy members at BishopAccountability.org, questioned whether those criteria still shield some priests. “I guess the question, really, is, what do they mean by corroborating evidence?” he said. “How do they use that? There are certainly singly accused priests about whom one is really not going to have any doubt.”
McKiernan praised Baltimore’s list for some aspects not seen in other dioceses, including a description of when each priest was accused and where he worked.
In one case added to the list Wednesday, the archdiocese first learned of multiple claims of abuse by the Rev. W. Vincent Bechtel in 2018, 24 years after his death. He allegedly committed the abuse while working at Mount Saint Joseph High School from 1979 to 1989; it was the third high school he had worked at.
Another case was reported by the victim in 2002; the priest, the Rev. William A. Braun, allegedly committed the abuse in the 1940s and died in 1964.
Monsignor John J. Corbett began serving as a priest in 1909. Two people reported in 1993 that Corbett, who died in 1957, had abused them in the late 1940s or early 1950s.
One of the newly named men was a bishop. The archdiocese said that “multiple individuals” alleged after Bishop Carl A. Fisher’s death in 1993 that he had abused them in Baltimore in the 1970s, before becoming auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles.
Caine said that five of the 23 newly named men had been publicly named elsewhere, such as in news media reports, before being added to the list, including one — the Rev. Benedict Mawn, who died in 1998 and was accused in 2002 of an instance of abuse in the 1950s — who met the criteria for inclusion solely because of the existing public report.
Along with other priests who have been added to the Baltimore list over the years — including those who were accused in another diocese but had also served in Baltimore and those who were members of religious orders working in Baltimore — the list now includes 126 priests and brothers.
The Archdiocese of Washington, which includes the District and parts of Maryland, published its list for the first time last year. It contained 31 names. Virginia’s two dioceses released their lists this year, with a total of 58 names between them.