New list of abusive Jesuit priests raises question: How many more are out there?

York Daily Record/December 8, 2018

By Candy Woodall

Until Friday morning, Terry McKiernan had 178 Jesuit priests on a list of abusive clergy members in the U.S. 

His list grew after Catholic Jesuit provinces released the names of 153 priests and brothers credibly accused of sexually abusing children. 

The Jesuits' U.S. Central and Southern, and West provinces posted the names on their websites Friday, and the Chicago-based Midwest province plans to post its names Dec. 17.

More: Jesuit priest abuse: 42 members of southern and central province named

More: Jesuits name 153 sexually abusive priests and brothers; more names expected to be released

The wholesale release of names of abusive priests has been trending among dioceses around the world since August, when a grand jury report identified 301 predator priests in Pennsylvania. Friday marked the first time a Jesuit order named their abusers in a long list. 

While the Catholic priest abuse scandal might seem more transparent than ever, McKiernan said we know fewer than half of all abusive priests by name. 

And McKiernan should know. As president and founder of Bishop Accountability, he has been tracking abusive clergy since a 2002 report revealed U.S. bishops hid predators and transferred them to parishes where they abused again.

The York Daily Record has determined that there are thousands of abusive priests who have not yet been identified, based on an analysis of data from Bishop, the U.S. Catholic Conference, Vatican statistics, Jesuit statistics and interviews. 

How many priests have abused children?

Since the Boston scandal broke in 2002, U.S. Bishops have tallied 6,846 abusive priests who served in their parishes since the 1950s. Of those, about 4,500 have been named. 

About 117,000 diocesean priests have served in the U.S. since 1950. It is believed that 10 percent of all priests, since at least the 1950s, have sexually abused children.

The U.S. Catholic Conference estimates a lower number at about 6 percent. 

But an analysis of data from court cases, investigations, church bankruptcy filings and diocese records shows the rate is about 10 percent. Furthermore, clinicians who've treated abusive priests have estimated about 10 percent of all priests sexually abuse children.

The 10 percent suggests 11,700 of the 117,000 priests who served in the U.S. since 1950 have abused children. As of Friday morning, about 6,900 have been counted and 4,500 have been named. 

In some areas it's more than 10 percent. For example, in the remote area of Fairbanks, Alaska, 19 percent of priests were found to have abused children. 

Lists of abusive priests collected and shared by Bishop Accountability show several dioceses have identified between 8 percent and 10 percent of their priests since the 1950s as abusive. The pattern of abuse has been proven true in dioceses across the country, regardless of geography or socioeconomic status: 

Boston - 11 percent
Covington - 10 percent
Harrisburg - 8 percent
Manchester, New Hampshire - 9 percent
Spokane - 9 percent

Dozens of dioceses across the country have released lists of abusive priests, and attorneys general have launched investigations in 14 states since the Pennsylvania report was released in August. 

But there are still 100 dioceses in the U.S. that haven't named any abusive priests, McKiernan said. 

Also troubling is the year's worth of data missing, he said.

More: Pa. priest abuse hotline receives more than 1,130 calls as reports spike

The church-funded John Jay report that analyzed priest abuse in the Catholic church covered years 1950 to 2002. The study was commissioned after the Boston scandal prompted bishops to meet in Dallas in 2002. 

That report was released in February 2004, and 2003 wasn't included. 

"They left out one of the most important years. That's when a lot of victims were coming forward and talking about their abuse," McKiernan said.

Jesuit priest abuse in Pennsylvania

The U.S. Central and Southern Province on Friday released the names of 42 Jesuit priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children. You can see that list here.

“The storm that the Church experiences today calls forth from us an unprecedented and yet needed response,” Provincial Ronald Mercier said in a statement Friday. “Silence in the face of the events of recent months cannot be an option.”

Mercier said the main focus of his province would be helping the victims who suffered "a terrible evil that wounds the soul."

Transparency will be key to acknowledging the abuse, healing and preventing it from happening again, he said. 

In addition to the list released Friday, Mercier said Kinsale Management Consulting will review 2,500 Jesuit files dating back to the 1950s to determine if there are more abusers who need to be added to the list.

The Jesuits' West province also released a list of more than 100 priests and brothers accused of child sex abuse. You can see that list here.

Provincial Scott Santarosa said he was releasing the list because the "people of God demand and deserve transparency."

"We do so because we hope that this act of accountability will help victims and their families in the healing process," he said.

The list can also keep parents from wondering whether their children are safe in a church or school, Santarosa said. The "vast majority" of Jesuits serving in the West province are not on the list of abusers, he said. 

"On behalf of the Society of Jesus, I apologize to the victims and families who put their trust in a Jesuit, only to have that trust so profoundly betrayed. It is inconceivable that someone entrusted with the pastoral care of a child could be capable of something so harmful. Yet, tragically, this is a part of our Jesuit history, a legacy we cannot ignore," Santarosa said in a statement.

There's no such list that includes any Pennsylvania priests. Those on the list released Friday served mostly in the Midwest and the South.

Other Jesuit provinces haven't released lists of abusive priests, and it's unclear if that will happen beyond the Midwest release on Dec. 17. Correspondence to other provinces was not returned.

There are presently 17,000 Jesuit priests and brothers worldwide, making it the largest male religious order in the Catholic church.

If the 10 percent holds here - and McKiernan believes it does - there could be 1,700 abusive Jesuit clergy.

"It's likely more of a problem with Jesuits because of access and the way they live," he said.

Jesuits, who practice as the Society of Jesus, frequently serve in teaching roles, such as in prep schools and other institutions. That creates access, McKiernan said.

While there has been no list released of abusive Jesuit priests in Pennsylvania, McKiernan has collected the cases he's aware of in this state: 

Louis Bonacci
H. Cornell Bradley
Robert B. Cullen
John Duggan
Stephen M. Garrity 
Neil P. McLaughlin
Garrett D. "Gary" Orr
William J. Walsh
William Wehrle
Priest abuse still hidden

Federal prosecutors should take a hard look at the Catholic order priests, like the Jesuits, as they continue their sweeping investigation, according to Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who has represented abuse victims for decades. 

"Those priests sexually abuse children just as much. There have been hundreds of cases," he said. 

Order priests often serve in dioceses and answer to local bishops, but their order superiors are ultimately responsible for them. That means if a Jesuit priest is caught abusing a child in a local diocese, the local bishop can remove him from the parish or school, but the order would be responsible for defrocking the abusive priest. Likewise, the order would be responsible for any pension. 

Former Harrisburg Bishop Kevin Rhoades on Nov. 23, 2005, stood in front of grieving parishioners at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Lewisburg and told them the Rev. Patrick Shannon, who was removed from ministry, loved them and wanted them to find strength in their faith.

“We need to pray for Father Shannon, his accuser and the Oblate superior,” Rhoades said.

Shannon was an order priest with the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, a religious order based in Wilmington, Delaware, that staffs dioceses throughout the East Coast.

Rhoades also told the parishioners that canon laws protect the rights of accused priests. Every step would be taken to restore his “good name” if the accusations were proven false.

Thirteen years later, the allegations have held up, and Shannon is still collecting wages and insurance from the Oblates, which found the allegations credible. The Oblates placed Shannon on leave, Rhoades removed him from two parishes, and Shannon was ultimately sent to the Oblates' retirement community in Childs, Maryland.  

Rhoades told the York Daily Record that he removed Shannon in November 2005 after the Oblates notified the Harrisburg diocese of a credible allegation of sexual assault. Shannon was accused of abusing a juvenile in 1973, when the priest was 33 years old.

"We had no idea about Shannon's past. We relied on the Oblate superiors to tell us if there was a problem. As soon as I learned of the abuse, I removed him from ministry," Rhoades said. 

An order priest needs the permission of a bishop or archbishop to work in a diocese. The U.S. attorney should look into the working relationship between dioceses and orders, Garabedian said. 

"Questions need to be asked: Are a bishop and archbishop involved in a cover up? Where is the priest coming from, and why is he coming here?" Garabedian said.

Prosecutors will have to ask and answer these questions so the public can someday have a full accounting of the number of abusive priests in the U.S. The church has proven repeatedly that it cannon self-police, he said. 

"The Catholic Church doesn't care about protecting innocent children. It just cares about its image and how much money it has," Garabedian said. 

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