The Archdiocese of Baltimore added the names Wednesday of 23 deceased priests and religious brothers to its online database of clergy members accused of child sexual abuse, signaling a revision in policy on dealing with cases that come to its attention only after an accused individual has died.
The change is in keeping with an endeavor by the diocese to enhance openness when it comes to the issue of child sexual abuse in the church, said Archbishop William E. Lori, leader of the area’s half-million Catholics.
“It’s part of an overall effort to be more transparent,” Lori said. “In doing this, we hope we’re giving more people who have in fact been abused the courage to come forward.”
The additions bring to 126 the number of clergy in the diocese considered credibly accused of sexual abuse, with incidents dating back as far as 80 years.
The move is “a great step,” said David Lorenz, state director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Archbishop William Lori encouraged the more than 500,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of Baltimore to report wrongdoing by clergy at all levels as part of an effort to regain public trust as church leaders worldwide confront a sexual abuse crisis.
“Even if the allegations date back to the 1950s, I guarantee there are victims of these predators who have never told anyone and who will get some sense of relief and justice,” Lorenz said. “I truly appreciate that.”
The diocese has long had a policy of notifying law enforcement of every abuse allegation it receives; the list reflects only those names it chooses to share with the public.
“Every one of these people was reported to law enforcement when the allegations became known to us,” diocesan spokesman Sean Caine said. “The issue is publishing the names, not reporting to authorities.”
The diocese, the nation’s oldest, began disclosing the names of credibly accused priests more than 16 years ago in the aftermath of a blockbuster investigative series by The Boston Globe that brought to light the scandal of widespread child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the United States.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops responded to that scandal at its 2002 national meeting by issuing a document — the so-called Dallas Charter — that proclaimed a “zero-tolerance” policy toward sexual abuse of children by priests and deacons.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore is establishing an advisory council of lay Catholics to help improve its performance in the wake of the sex-abuse revelations that have rocked the church worldwide in recent weeks, Archbishop William E. Lori announced Friday.
The Baltimore diocese’s policy at the time was to include, with few exceptions, only the names of clergy who had faced accusations of abuse during their lifetimes. That, according to Caine, was a matter of fairness.
“If a person isn’t alive to defend himself, you have to be sure,” Caine said. “You’ll be tarnishing their reputation permanently. You can’t unring the bell of a false allegation.”
The original list included 57 names; 46 more were added as accusations of living clergy members came in over the years.
The diocese’s concern for fairness hasn’t changed, Lori said, but the crisis of sexual abuse that has affected the church in the past few decades has prompted Catholic leaders “to acquire greater skill in learning to evaluate the evidence” surrounding sexual abuse.
In light of that understanding, as well as the diocese’s renewed commitment to transparency, Lori said he decided to ask a team of church leaders — men and women with experience dealing with the psychological and legal aspects of child sexual abuse — to review the files of dozens of late clergy members who were first accused after they died.
The group recommended adding a clergy member’s name to the list if any of three conditions were met: the archdiocese received allegations against that individual from more than one victim, the group believed it could substantiate an allegation through the information in its files, or an accused priest’s or brother’s name already was published elsewhere.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore changes the names of its annual fund-raising drive to reassure faithful that their donations go toward ministries, not sex-abuse cases. Long titled the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal, the drive will be renamed the Annual Appeal for Catholic Ministries starting in January.
The policy change is part of a larger effort within the diocese that included the creation, last year, of a third-party reporting system people can use to report abuse by clergy members, including bishops.
It’s a feature the U.S. bishops organization appeared ready to consider approving as a national policy in November during their most recent assembly in Baltimore, but Pope Francis issued an order just before the gathering, telling bishops to take no action at that time on the matter of sex abuse.
The decision sparked outrage among Catholics and others around the world who had hoped that the bishops would act decisively in the midst of a worldwide sex abuse scandal.