It is 2020 — Have All the Abusive Priests Been Exposed Yet?

| Jan 17, 2020 | Catholic Church

We predict that, if surveyed, 90% of US Catholics would agree with this statement: “These days, after decades of horrific scandal, bishops report suspected child sex crimes promptly to law enforcement.”

The trouble is, that’s not true. Look no further than this week’s news from Alaska.

As recently as 2016, a New York man was working there as a parish priest. He’s now in a Maryland treatment center for the sexually troubled. This week, he was ‘outed’ by his supervisors as a ‘credibly accused’ abuser, having reportedly viewed child porn on his computer.

But the cleric, Fr. Robert Leising, says “no police were involved.”

What? How can that be? Haven’t bishops promised, time and time again, that they’ve ‘learned from the past’ and nowadays ‘immediately call police’ if they suspect child sex crimes?

It’s of course possible that Fr. Leising is not telling the truth. Who knows? (Why would he lie?) But his comments were publicly reported in the news media on Thursday. Today is Friday. No Catholic figure inside or outside of Alaska has contradicted his claim.

Are we glad his boss finally admitted he’s ‘credibly accused?’ Certainly.

Is that enough? Of course not.

What should Catholic officials do now?

They should give every shred of information about Fr. Leising’s alleged crimes to local police and prosecutors.

They should explain why they evidently didn’t do this immediately.

They should fire (or at least discipline) every person who, through action or inaction, didn’t call the law.

They should explain why Fr. Leising was supposedly ‘returned’ to his religious order (the Oblates of Mary Immaculate) in 2016, which suggests they kept quiet about his alleged crimes for years.

They should use every mechanism possible to seek out others who may have seen, suspected or suffered crimes by Fr. Leising or cover ups by his colleagues (using parish websites, church bulletins, pulpit announcements and news releases). This should happen first in the towns where he worked most recently: Soldotna and Homer.

And church officials in New York should also do aggressive outreach. (He grew up in a small town between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. He may have molested kids or watched or made child porn in his hometown, while younger or while back home on a visit.)

Fr. Leising was publicly named this week along with other clergy “ranging from a deacon to an assistant to the archbishop to the chaplain of a homeless shelter” who worked “across Southcentral Alaska, including Anchorage, Talkeetna, Cooper Landing, Seward, Glennallen, Ninilchik and Valdez,” in some clearly remote and isolated communities among very vulnerable families.

The Archdiocese “covers 138,985 square miles — larger than the size of New Mexico. It stretches from Glennallen to Unalaska,” according to its website.

That’s a lot of territory for those who commit and conceal child sex crimes to work in with little or no supervision or oversight. And it’s potentially a very lonely place for a betrayed, suffering victim of sexual violence.

Juneau Bishop Andrew Bellisario is the temporary head of the Anchorage Archdiocese (replacing replaced Anchorage Bishop Paul Etienne). Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger is the temporary head of the Buffalo diocese (replacing Bishop Richard Malone).

Both must take further steps to protect the vulnerable, expose the truth and help bring healing.

And regardless of what Catholic officials do or don’t do, federal and local law enforcement should look long and hard and what seems to be a violation of secular law – knowing or suspecting child sex crimes but refusing to call police or prosecutors.

(Ironically, Fr. Leising isn’t the only ‘just outed’ Alaska abuser from New York. The Anchorage list also includes the name of Fr. Stanley Allie of Albany, who reportedly victimized a vulnerable adult in Alaska.)

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, brothers, nuns, seminarians, bishops and others. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by church employee or volunteer, contact our office today toll-free at 888-283-9922 or email us at [email protected] today.