By Tim Harfmann
Around the country, dioceses are releasing names of priests considered ‘credibly accused’ of sexual abuse. But what does the term mean?
The national correspondent for The Tablet and Crux, Christopher White, spent weeks researching the issue. He said when it comes to deciding whether an accusation is credible or not — standards vary. “There are a lot of competing definitions of what ‘credibly accused’ means, and there’s also a debate as to who actually gets to define the term itself,” said White.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops doesn’t have a formal definition. At the USCCB’s meeting in November, many prelates expressed a desire for a uniform, national policy. The USCCB’s president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, vowed he would look into this. “We’ll work on finalizing the standards of accountability for bishops, finalizing the protocol for removed bishops, and studying national guidelines for the publication of lists of names of those clerics facing substantiated claims of abuse,” said Cardinal DiNardo.
While the first instance of a diocese publicly releasing names of accused priests dates back to the early 2000s, following the release of a Pennsylvania Grand Jury report in August, dioceses across the county have started to follow-suit. “There is the interest to protect children and, at the same time, there’s the interest to ensure that a person is not being dealt with unjustly, being unjustly accused,” said Monsignor Kieran Harrington. He’s the vicar for communications for the Diocese of Brooklyn and pointed out that while many survivors of sexual abuse and watchdog groups have praised the move, some advocates have raised concerns that innocent priests may have their good names ruined without due process. “Why would that happen? Perhaps the priest wasn’t assigned to the parish at the time the abuse was alleged. Maybe it’s a person who has suffered from this trauma, can sometimes make an allegation, misidentify somebody,” said Monsignor Harrington.
In February, Pope Francis will convene a global meeting on sex abuse at the Vatican. The summit is more likely going to address broader issues, leaving dioceses to sort out their own policies for releasing names and deeming clergy ‘credibly accused.’