Pennsylvania diocese names 71 clergy accused of sexual misconduct

Pennsylvania diocese names 71 clergy accused of sexual misconduct

The leader of one of the largest Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania has released a list identifying 71 priests, deacons and seminarians accused of “substantiated” sexual misconduct over the past seven decades.

The list’s publication Wednesday came ahead of the expected release this month of a report by a Pennsylvania grand jury on sexual abuse by “300 priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses,” a spokesman for the state’s attorney general said in a statement. The grand jury’s inquiry dates to 1947, the archdiocese said.

Bishop Ronald Gainer of the Harrisburg Diocese on Wednesday also issued an apology on behalf of the religious community.

“That conduct has left a legacy of pain and sorrow that is still being felt,” he wrote. “I apologize for these actions.”

In a departure from how many Catholic leaders have handled such claims, Gainer included on his diocese’s list at least 42 men who have died, according to the register, saying it was important to name them.

“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 who have come forward, and those who still have not, that we have heard their cries and taken them seriously,” he wrote in a letter to the community.

List includes other places clerics worked

Gainer’s revelation comes as American Catholics absorb the resignation of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick from the College of Cardinals, one of the church’s most powerful bodies, amid allegations of molestation and sexual misconduct. McCarrick, 88, had been a popular and politically influential leader in Washington. He maintained his innocence in June against some claims and has been unavailable to comment on others.

That case — and the Harrisburg disclosure — mark the latest in a long series of abuse allegations that have rocked the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics since the scope of systemic abuse and cover-ups began emerging in 2002.

While most men on the Harrisburg list are accused of sexually abusing children, others were investigated for inappropriate behavior, such as kissing or inappropriately communicating with a minor, Gainer wrote. Others were accused of viewing or possessing child pornography.

The list “does not contain those cases where the accusation was deemed not substantiated, meaning it was … not supported by sufficient evidence” after review by “law enforcement or Diocesan reviewers,” Gainer wrote.

“The Diocese did not make an assessment of credibility or guilt,” he added.

The list omits how the diocese handled most of the accusations, as well as the men’s current whereabouts, though a few cases that were forwarded to civil authorities are more detailed. The diocese did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Gainer in his statement said: “We send every and all complaints to the proper legal authorities and we remove the subject of the complaint from active ministry pending a law enforcement investigation. The safety and well-being of our children is too important not to take immediate and definitive action.”

The list also notes other dioceses where the clerics are known to have worked. Those include: Allentown and Erie, Pennsylvania; Dallas; Great Falls/Billings, Montana; Memphis; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Richmond, Virginia; and the Archdiocese of the Military.

Gainer also announced that anyone accused of sexual misconduct will have his name “removed from any position of honor throughout the Diocese,” including “any building, facility, or room.” That includes the names of Gainer’s predecessors as the diocese’s chief executive, a prestigious and powerful position that includes oversight of priests, the bishop said.

“The decision to remove names of Bishops and clerics may prove to be controversial, but as a Bishop, I strongly believe that leaders of the Diocese must hold themselves to a higher standard, and must yield honorary symbols in the interest of healing,” Gainer said in the statement.

Grand jury report expected in August

Officials involved in the state investigation described it as “long past due for the Diocese of Harrisburg to make public the names of predator priests within the Catholic Church.”

“Their proclamations today only come after intense public pressure and in the face of the imminent release of the Grand Jury report exposing decades of child abuse and cover up,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s spokesman, Joe Grace, said Wednesday in a statement, adding that the diocese had been uncooperative and “adverse to transparency.”

Gainer said he had ordered his staff to create a list of the clerics and seminarians accused of sexual misconduct shortly after he was installed as bishop in early 2014. The names were ready for public release in September 2016, “yet the Office of Attorney General requested, in order to protect its then-ongoing investigation, that the Diocese stand down on that effort,” Gainer said in his statement.

The attorney general’s spokesman pushed back.

“A basic part of any investigation is not informing a person that they’re under investigation. That can lead to the destruction of evidence,” Grace told CNN on Thursday. “The Diocese of Harrisburg had decades to release the names of these abusers and then they wanted to release the names in the middle of our investigation, at a time when it could only harm our investigation.”

The state Supreme Court last week ordered the grand jury report to be released after the parties request redactions, due next Tuesday. Depending on the outcome, the report could be released Wednesday or August 14.