Over the past four months, Roman Catholic dioceses across the U.S. have released the names of more than 1,000 priests and others accused of sexually abusing children in an unprecedented public reckoning spurred at least in part by a shocking grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania, an Associated Press review has found.
Nearly 50 dioceses and religious orders have publicly identified child-molesting priests in the wake of the Pennsylvania report issued in mid-August, and 55 more have announced plans to do the same over the next few months, the AP found. Together they account for more than half of the nation’s 187 dioceses.
The review also found that nearly 20 local, state or federal investigations, either criminal or civil, have been launched since the release of the grand jury findings. Those investigations could lead to more names and more damning accusations, as well as fines against dioceses and court-ordered safety measures.
“People saw what happened in these parishes in Pennsylvania and said, ‘That happened in my parish too.’ They could see the immediate connection, and they are demanding the same accounting,” said Tim Lennon, national president of the board of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
The recently disclosed accusations date back six or seven decades in some cases, with the oldest from the 1910s in Louisiana. Most of the priests were long ago removed from ministry. An AP examination found that more than 60 percent are dead. In most cases, the statute of limitations for bringing criminal charges or suing has run out.
Nevertheless, advocates say exposing molesters nearly two decades after the scandal first erupted in Boston in 2002 is an encouraging step, in part because it gives some victims a sense of vindication after decades of official silence or denials. Also, it could increase pressure on dioceses to set up victims’ compensation funds, as the church has done in Pennsylvania already. And it could result in the removal of molesters from positions outside the church that give them access to children.