Lists of accused ND priests still under wraps

FARGO -- Over the years, nearly 30 Roman Catholic dioceses around the country have publicly disclosed a list naming priests accused of sexually abusing children.

FARGO -- Over the years, nearly 30 Roman Catholic dioceses around the country have publicly disclosed a list naming priests accused of sexually abusing children.

Sometimes these lists held no surprises -- the priests named were already known as alleged predators. But often these lists revealed new names, shedding light on dark corners of the church.

Airing these names is a step Catholic officials usually take only when faced with a court order or some other external pressure. But regardless of the motivation, victim advocates say publicizing the names for all to see is crucial because it can prevent future abuse and can help survivors heal.

In the past few years, Minnesota has seen several dioceses forced to release lists of accused priests due to lawsuits filed as a result of a temporary suspension of the state's civil statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases.

Most U.S. dioceses, however, have not coughed up a list.


This is true in the two dioceses that cover all of North Dakota, Fargo and Bismarck, which each rejected a request to release a complete list of priests who ever spent time in the diocese and were accused of sexual abuse.

If a complete list had been released, it would have contained new names, said Terry McKiernan who runs, a Massachusetts-based website that gathers information on accused priests.

"If a diocese is going to try to do the right thing, you're going to find names on the list that you've never seen before," he said.

To support his claim, McKiernan referred to a church-commissioned survey, done by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, that grew out of a historic meeting of U.S. bishops in Dallas in 2002, a time when the clergy sexual abuse scandal was flaring up.

The John Jay survey relied on reports from bishops to count the number of clergy with allegations of sexual abuse against them, from 1950 to 2002. The survey, updated in the years since 2002, has tallied a total of 6,427 accused clergy from 1950 to 2013.

The names of all those 6,427 clergy are not publicly known, but through court documents, diocese lists and news reports, has aggregated the names of 4,129 accused priests.

This means there are at least 2,298 accused priests that have not yet been identified.

"We know they're out there, but we don't know their names," McKiernan said.


'Devastating harm'

Along with this national discrepancy, there are also discrepancies in the North Dakota dioceses.

The Fargo Diocese reported in 2003 that the John Jay survey counted 17 accused priests and deacons who served in the diocese. Church officials said four of the 17 were dead and the rest were no longer in ministry. None of those clergy was identified.

In contrast,newspaper archives and show that the names of only six Fargo Diocese officials accused of child sexual abuse have been made public.

In declining the request for the names of all accused priests, Chancellor Andrew Jasinski said the Fargo Diocese was not providing the information, which would have come from personnel files, because of a policy to honor employees' privacy.

"The Diocese's policy is consistent with those policies followed by other public and private institutions," he wrote in an email.

Jasinski wrote that when allegations of child sexual abuse have been reported to the diocese in recent years, "we have always fulfilled our civil reporting obligations, internal remedies, and offered pastoral outreach to anyone who comes to us."


Bismarck Diocese officials said in 2004 that the John Jay survey counted 11 accused priests (three dead, eight no longer in ministry), while and newspaper  archives revealed just six publicly known names. Like Fargo, the Bismarck Diocese cited employee privacy concerns as the reason for not releasing a full list of accused priests.

"We acknowledge the devastating harm caused by this abuse and hold all involved accountable," Bishop David Kagan wrote in an email.

Minnesota lawsuits

While neither North Dakota diocese has disclosed a list of accused priests, the landscape is considerably different in Minnesota.

The dioceses of Crookston, St. Cloud, Duluth and Winona, along with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, have all released lists. St. John's Abbey in Collegeville and the Crosier Fathers and Brothers in Onamia have done the same.

The driving force behind these releases of names has been the litigation of Jeff Anderson & Associates, a St. Paul firm that specializes in clergy sexual abuse cases. Plus, recent state legislation has created an influx of suits against the church, said Patrick Wall, a former monk and priest who's now a victim advocate for Anderson's firm.

"The only reason this is blowing up in Minnesota is because of the Child Victims Act enacted in 2013," Wall said.

The act opened a three-year window for victims of child sexual abuse to file civil suits in cases in which the statute of limitations expired. The window closes in May.

Last year, the North Dakota Legislature passed a law extending the civil statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases from seven to 10 years, with the clock starting when a victim discovers they have a claim.

However, this extension won't be much benefit to victims, said Marci Hamilton, a professor at Yeshiva University's Cardozo Law School in New York City.

"The problem is that the vast majority of survivors need into their, really, adulthood to be able to come forward. The average age is about age 42, so the current numbers in North Dakota keep out most of the victims," said Hamilton, a proponent of extending or removing civil statutes of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse.

North Dakota's new law, as it was first proposed, would have eliminated the civil statute of limitations. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, said the legislation was not aimed at the Catholic Church. Rather, the idea for the bill came from a constituent abused by a relative as a child.

Christopher Dodson, executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, said he expressed concerns to legislators about the initial version of the bill. He said getting rid of the statute of limitations would force the church to settle lawsuits.

"You bring up old cases," he said. "Often the accused has died. The witnesses are gone."

Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when it voted unanimously to amend the bill to increase the statute of limitations to 10 years rather than eliminate it. Hogue, Wanzek and Sen. Carolyn Nelson, D-Fargo, who requested that the bill be amended, all said the Catholic Conference's concerns did not affect the outcome of the bill.

'A life of silence'

When a diocese does divulge names of accused priests, the list produced is often incomplete, said David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

"Despite the repeated pledges of quote-unquote openness and transparency, Catholic officials continue to fight very hard to keep information hidden about those who commit or conceal child sex crimes," he said.

Clohessy said lists will often include diocesan priests but not clerics from religious orders within the diocese. Almost always the lists name only priests the diocese considers "credibly accused," typically erring on the side of protecting clergy, he said.

McKiernan said the church should devise a best practice for drafting these lists because they regularly omit important details such as a description of the alleged offense, the date of the abuse and the number of victims. He said these were the same shortcomings of a list of 77 names released this month by the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Wall said a benefit of releasing names of the accused is that it can sometimes prompt a victim to come forward, whereas the majority of victims do not. "They take this to the grave. They live a life of silence and shame that way," he said.

McKiernan said all dioceses would ideally release all the names of accused priests. It could lead to suits from victims, but it could also improve parishioners' view of their church, he said.

"We really do need all the names if children are going to be safe and survivors are going to reach the kind of peace that they really deserve," he said.

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