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Priests upset by release of abuse list

Baltimore priests responded with sadness and anger yesterday after the release of a detailed account of Roman Catholic clergy accused of child sexual abuse over the past seven decades, expressing concern that the church is trying to quell scandal at the expense of their rights.

More than 100 priests gathered at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Linthicum Heights yesterday to hear Cardinal William H. Keeler explain why he was making public the names of diocesan priests and men in religious orders and priests from other dioceses who have been accused of sexual abuse.

"Everyone is very clear that real abuse needs to be dealt with openly and directly, with no attempt to cover up," said the Rev. William Au, pastor of SS. Philip and James Catholic Church in Charles Village.

"But many priests feel the atmosphere has gone from one extreme to the other," Au said, "that the bishops' efforts to regain moral credibility and improve their public image has led them not to show adequate regard for the rights of those who are accused."

There was a sense of mourning as the priests read the names of men who were classmates, friends or mentors who are now disgraced.

"It was an emotional shock for all the priests there. There were people who you knew had been in trouble, but there were also people you never thought were in trouble at all," said the Rev. Michael Roach, pastor of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Manchester. "There were so many of our men who had done great work. It was tragic, tragic, tragic, especially for their families who survive."

At a news conference later at the Catholic Center, Keeler's downtown office, he acknowledged the anger and said he was "not a bit surprised."

"Wouldn't you be angry if you looked at something like that, dealing with a number of people who were friends, information that wasn't known before?" he said.

In addition to the priests' meeting, Keeler sent a letter to the 180,000 Catholic households in the Baltimore Archdiocese informing them of the list and apologizing for any mistakes he made in dealing with clergy sexual abuse. He also disclosed that the archdiocese spent $4.1 million to settle lawsuits filed by eight victims over the past 20 years, nearly all of it covered by insurance.

Keeler, who said he followed the lead of a brother bishop in issuing such a detailed list, said the step was needed to fulfill the commitment he and other U.S. bishops made when they adopted a zero-tolerance policy at their June meeting in Dallas.

"The truth is going to come out one way or another," he said. "And we may as well face the issue clearly and cleanly, and in keeping with what we as bishops said in our charter down in Dallas, that we'll be transparent about the issue."

And he said that he did it to boost priests' morale.

"So often a pall is cast, a sort of suspicion is directed toward all of our clergy," Keeler said. "By taking this step we are affirming that those who are on the front lines are not only worthy of respect, but in my judgment, they're doing a good job."

That was little comfort for some of Baltimore's clergy.

The Rev. Richard Lawrence, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church at Front Street and the Fallsway, said his immediate concern is ministering to his parishioners after learning that his immediate predecessor, the Rev. Edmund Stroup, was on the list of alleged abusers.

"It's very difficult for people to open the paper and find this out about the priest by whom they were baptized, the priest from whom they received their first Communion, the priest from whom they learned the faith," he said. "This will cause a lot of folks to question, 'How do you sort all that out? How do you separate the singer from the song?'"

Several priests objected to singling out clergy when no bishop has faced any disciplinary action although some knowingly transferred abusers from parish to parish.

"There is frustration that no bishops have been called on the carpet," Lawrence said. "Some guys felt that this was as much a crisis of episcopal oversight as it was of priestly misconduct."

But the priests' chief complaint was over releasing names of those accused but not convicted of crimes.

The Rev. Joseph Gallagher, one of the priests named in the list, objected to his name being included. The published list said that Gallagher admitted to "inappropriate conduct" with a minor. Yesterday, Gallagher, a former editor of The Catholic Review who has frequently contributed to The Sun, issued a statement in which he said the incident involved only a massage of a 14-year-old boy that occurred 21 years ago but involved "no genital touching."

"I have always had a personal horror of any abuse of a minor, and have a clear conscience that none was intended in this most regrettable mishap," he said. "I have clearly expressed my sorrow to all concerned, and I do so now to anyone who may be hurt by this current publicity, whose purpose at this late date escapes my comprehension."

Objections were also raised by the family of the Rev. Kenneth Farabaugh, the former pastor of St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Hickory, who was being investigated on a child sex abuse allegation when he was killed in a car accident in December 2000. He had denied the allegation.

While expressing sympathy to the victims of child sexual abuse, the priest's brother, Michael J. Farabaugh, said that "we vehemently oppose naming alleged abusers who have not been convicted. We especially oppose naming those who are deceased and can no longer defend themselves."

"By naming these deceased priests, the only ones who can now be hurt are their family members," said Farabaugh, a former reporter for The Sun.

But there were also those who felt that publishing the list was a good, if difficult, step.

P. McEvoy Cromwell, chairman of the independent review board on sexual abuse cases, called it "the right kind of move to make at this point." He said he hoped it would encourage more victims to come forward, and would show the church is "moving toward a position of empathy and sympathy" toward victims.

"Those qualities have been lacking up until now in relationships between the church and victims, on a national scale and on a local scale," he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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