Church Should Disclose Names of Pedophile Priests

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On April 26, 2016, the Yakima Diocese announced that it will not follow the Seattle Archdiocese’s lead and publish the names of clergy who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children. The Diocese’s claimed reasoning for continuing its decades-long policy of silence and secrets is that most of the priest’s names “already had been made public, either released in notices by the diocese, listed in this newspaper or named in the legal system.” However, this is a patently impossible claim to verify given that the Diocese cannot credibly claim that the identity of all of its pedophile priests have been revealed in newspaper articles since the creation of the Diocese in 1951.  In fact, until the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops met in 2002 and issued the “Dallas Charter,” which prohibits confidential settlements, most childhood sexual abuse claims were quietly and confidentially settled.  As a result, hundreds if not thousands of pedophile priests remained anonymous, protected under the cloak of secrecy, and thousands if not tens of thousands of abuse survivors continued to believe that they were alone in their suffering.

Given that other Dioceses, including the Seattle Archdiocese, have had the moral courage to publish the names of their pedophile priests, why would the Yakima Diocese choose to keep these names secret?  Moreover, why would a Diocese, whose mission is to help and heal, require the public, let alone potential victims of abuse, to go through the effort of searching public records, diocese notices, or newspaper articles for this information when it is so easily accessible and available to the Diocese?  The only logical answer is that the Yakima Diocese is concerned about protecting the interest of the church, not the victims of abuse or the public.

After representing hundreds of survivors of childhood sexual abuse by clergy, I can attest to the pain they suffer not only as a result of the betrayal by the priest who abused them, but by their life-long perception that they are alone; that nobody else is suffering like them; that they are the only ones who were traumatized by a particular priest. They feel betrayed not only by the priest who abused them, but by the church that harbored that priest. And the church continuing to keep the names of its pedophile priests secret only serves to perpetuate this hurt and betrayal.  If the Yakima Diocese published a list of its priests who abused children, it would be helping abuse survivors heal and find peace.  When abuse survivors discover they are not alone, they of course feel a sense of sadness for the other victims, but they also feel validated for the first time in their lives.

Publishing the names of priests who have abused children is not only the morally correct position to take in the interest of transparency, but is the only practical way for the public to truly understand the depth, breadth, and gravity of the childhood sexual abuse epidemic within religious organizations.  Churches are not government bodies.  As such, they are not subject to public disclosure laws. They can thus operate for decades carrying dark secrets which resulted (and could still result) in great harm to children within the church and community as a whole.  These secrets can be revealed through litigation, like the cases with which I’ve helped clients over the years.  But those cases are costly and it is often difficult to extract this kind of information in an adversarial setting.  Alternatively, these secrets can be shared by the Diocese without litigation, without a legal mandate whatsoever.

Ultimately, there are two paths available to a Diocese grappling with a troubled history of childhood sexual abuse by clergy:  shine the light of truth on this dark history, or continue on a path of silence and secrets.  I would submit that the path of truth and transparency is more consistent with the purported mission of the church, and is more likely to ensure that the failings of the church will not be repeated.