Do we still need to explain why the names of child molesting clerics – even the dead ones – should be disclosed? Sadly, we do. For centuries, the Catholic abuse crisis has quietly festered. For decades, it’s been hitting the headlines. US bishops have promised to be open and transparent about abuse. A few weeks ago, a prominent Catholic writer and a Massachusetts bishop inadvertently reminded us that some (perhaps many) in the church still won’t let go of their cherished secrecy around abuse. The bishop is Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts. He’s been a prelate for a quarter century. He has a master’s degree. He’s a smart man, and so is Phil Lawler, Catholic World News’s (CWN) editor. Lawler attended Harvard College and did graduate work at the University of Chicago. He’s written or edited ten books on political and religious topics.
Unlike many Catholic commentators, Mr. Lawler has written some good articles about the abuse crisis. But he recently wrote of his disapproval of naming deceased predators. “A man has the right to defend himself against accusations,” Mr. Lawler maintains, adding that “a priest who was ‘credibly accused’ (and) is now deceased. . . cannot defend his reputation, and he poses no threat to anyone” so should not be ‘outed’ by anyone in the Catholic hierarchy. McManus agrees with Mr. Lawler. He opposes disclosing the names of credibly accused clerics who are deceased. In all fairness, however, McManus shouldn’t be completely singled out. At least 15 other US Catholic bishops will not post on their websites the names of pedophile priests. They lead dioceses in Oregon, Florida, Hawaii, Michigan, Nebraska, Texas, Maine, California, the Virgin Islands, and the Military Archdiocese. This headline about McManus says it all: “Massachusetts diocese publishes nameless clergy abuse report.“
That’s right. A Catholic bishop, MaManus, in 2023, put out a ‘report’ on abuse in his diocese, spanning 72 years, without naming a predator priest. More precisely, McManus refused to identify a single wrongdoer – child molesting cleric, complicit colleague, or a document-shredding, truth-shading, victim-intimidating, report-ignoring, police-stonewalling church employee, lawyer, volunteer or public relations consultant.
Whether alive or dead, virtually all wrongdoers involved in child sexual abuse in the diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, are protected. McManus fears that naming such names “will not accurately reflect the various concerns and outcomes.” So what? Virtually no effort is ever universally approved. Virtually no report ever, on anything, manages to “accurately reflect the various concerns and outcomes” of everyone and everything.Some of these Catholic prelates, their parishioners, and PR consultants claim that they can’t understand why it helps to expose deceased wrongdoers, or it’s unfair to expose deceased wrongdoers or both. To help make this as straightforward as possible, here, short and sweet, are the reasons why even child molesting clerics who are dead should be disclosed by Catholic authorities.
- Church officials promised – repeatedly – to be “open and transparent” about abuse. It’s in the US bishops supposedly binding national abuse policy. No exceptions are spelled out.
- It’s healing for victims. Don’t take our word for it. Listen to New Mexico Bishop John Wester, who said, “for those who have been abused, it helps them to see a certain validation … and they can see some of the facts that might help them in their own healing.”
- It’s healing for church members. They would rather feel good about and have confidence in their leaders (who wouldn’t?), but many can’t because these leaders still keep abusive secrets.
- It deters abuse cover-ups. When employers and employees see media exposes and court cases about child molesters who were protected, many of them surely think, “I hope I’ll never have to be hauled into court and forced to explain why I kept quiet instead of speaking up and protecting kids.” Surely at least a few of them have acted on this fear.
- It’s educational and thus preventative. The more we all learn about abuse, the better we can prevent it. Identifying predators and explaining how they evaded detection and chose more compliant victims and won the trust of parents, and effectively denied their crimes all help us better spot and stop abuse in the future.
Much of it – the abuse and the abusers – will come out anyway. And when it does, a bit here and a bit there, thanks largely or only to outside forces (like reporters, victims, attorneys, whistleblowers, and prosecutors), it only makes the church and its hierarchy look worse. Maybe you don’t believe this part – that eventually, most of the abusers will ultimately be publicly identified even if bishops keep secrets?
Consider this recent report out of California
A February 22, 2023, news article is headlined “Plaintiffs’ Attorneys Say 1500 New Lawsuits Have Been Filed Against the Roman Catholic Church in Northern CA Alone. The Investigative Unit has Independently Reviewed Nearly 700 of Them.” The news outlet’s research over the past three years “suggests the church’s child sexual abuse scandal in the region is significantly worse than the public previously knew” and “more than 200 of the clergy and lay employees of the Catholic Church named in the wave of lawsuits have never been publicly accused of being sexually abusive towards children and teens. Of course, the investigative report’ outs’ a number of previously undisclosed child molesting clerics (among them Oakland’s former bishop Floyd Begin and Fr. John Garcia) and says it will be “publishing a complete list of names” after having looked more closely at the lawsuits.
Half of the states in our country have now passed the same law that California has, which enables these kinds of disclosures. So no matter how much McManus and Mr. Lawler may regret it, more revelations will keep coming – drip, drip, drip – exposing more predators, alive and dead, while also further eroding whatever faith the faithful still have in their church hierarchy. But let’s give Mr. Lawler his due. He writes, “I do not believe that the scandal has been the result of media bias; the damage to bishops’ credibility has been self-inflicted.” We would only add that this damage to bishops’ credibility has not only been self-inflicted, but it continues to be self-inflicted by officials like McManus.
The damage can be easily stopped. All it takes is bishops abiding by their long-promised “openness and transparency” on abuse. POSTSCRIPT: It pains us here at Horowitz Law to note that four of these 15 recalcitrant bishops are here in our home state of Florida. They head the dioceses of Palm Beach, Venice, Orlando, and Miami. We at Horowitz Law aren’t even sure what McManus is saying here. He goes on to claim that “Such lists (of predator priests) can be a cause for deep division among many members of our Church. . .” Yes, and??? Any way you look at it, the church’s continuing abuse and cover-up crisis creates “deep division.” Publishing a list of proven, admitted, and credibly accused child molesting clerics may deepen some divisions. Or it may alleviate them. McManus can’t predict for sure. He has no crystal ball. Of course, that doesn’t matter. Catholic officials do and say tons of things that are divisive. That doesn’t – and arguably shouldn’t – deter church leaders from doing what’s right. As we mentioned, more than a dozen US Catholic bishops, like McManus, won’t post on their websites the names of pedophile priests.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, please contact our law firm at 888-283-9922 or email sexual abuse lawyer Adam Horowitz at [email protected]. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.