Church must keep in­for­ma­tion com­ing

Santa Fe New Mexican - - OPINIONS -

The Arch­dio­cese of Santa Fe is tak­ing the right steps to put the scan­dal of pe­dophile priests to rest. Last week, Arch­bishop John C. Wester re­leased a list of 74 priests, dea­cons and broth­ers the arch­dio­cese says has been “cred­i­bly” ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct — an ac­count­ing that vic­tims have been de­mand­ing for years.

This is a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward in shin­ing light into a dark place in re­cent church his­tory. Pre­vi­ously, court fil­ings and sur­vivors’ groups had iden­ti­fied 44 priests ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct. Wester’s re­lease of the up­dated list ex­pands our knowl­edge, giv­ing vic­tims es­sen­tial in­for­ma­tion as they seek an­swers.

In his let­ter an­nounc­ing the move, Wester did not mince words: “The his­tory of this ter­ri­ble abuse at the hands of those who were sup­posed to love and pro­tect you is a deep source of sad­ness and shame for our Church.” Sad­ness and shame. Ex­actly the cor­rect way to de­scribe the ac­tions of the church in abet­ting mo­lesta­tion of chil­dren.

And, as im­por­tant as the re­lease of this list is, it is not enough. Ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion must be shared with the pub­lic. Arch­bishop Wester again: “It is my deep­est hope that our pub­li­ca­tion of this list will serve as an im­por­tant step in heal­ing for sur­vivors, their fam­i­lies, and our church and com­mu­ni­ties.”

What is im­por­tant is his sub­se­quent state­ment: “But we will not stop here.”

No, the church can­not stop with just a list of names. Soon to come, Wester promised, is a list of the places where th­ese priests served. Part of heal­ing is knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing what hap­pened. Par­ish­ioners from Taos, Mora, Santa Fe or other New Mex­ico com­mu­ni­ties where priests vi­o­lated the trust of fam­i­lies and the in­no­cence of chil­dren de­serve to know who passed through their parishes.

List­ing where priests served is not enough, either. Church mem­bers — and vic­tims es­pe­cially — need to be able to pe­ruse records and dis­cover what was done and why church of­fi­cials did lit­tle to stem the abuse. Other dio­ce­ses have re­leased in­ter­nal records; Santa Fe should, too.

The list, after all, is a com­pi­la­tion of “cred­i­bly” ac­cused men. Trou­ble is, the ac­cu­sa­tions are be­ing deemed cred­i­ble by the in­sti­tu­tion that for so long shel­tered them. Wester has said that lists will be up­dated and new names added, but know­ing why some people made the list while oth­ers did not is an es­sen­tial part of this process. Vic­tims who pe­ruse the list of names but do not see the per­son who harmed them might have valu­able in­for­ma­tion for the arch­dio­cese, too. We are bet­ter served with trans­parency.

Ad­di­tion­ally, church lead­ers must con­tinue to be clear about what steps are be­ing taken now to pre­vent any re­oc­cur­rences. We know that any lay people, clergy or vol­un­teers in con­tact with chil­dren must take classes to make them aware of the signs of sex­ual abuse. The arch­dio­cese also has a zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy when it comes to sex­ual abuse. Of­fend­ers must be re­ported to po­lice im­me­di­ately. That’s as it should be.

But trust is pre­cious, and once de­stroyed, must be re­built. To make sure that fam­i­lies again are com­fort­able with priests and other church rep­re­sen­ta­tives near their chil­dren, it is im­por­tant to first lay the past bare and then, to keep fam­i­lies in­formed. Im­por­tantly, the Arch­dio­cese of Santa Fe pol­icy re­lat­ing to sex­ual mis­con­duct re­quires that any­one with knowl­edge of sex­ual abuse of a mi­nor im­me­di­ately re­port it to law en­force­ment. That pol­icy makes it clear that abuse of chil­dren is not just a sin. It is a crime.

What also re­mains a crime against people of faith is that so many priests were pro­tected while chil­dren were placed in harm’s way. Re­leas­ing the list of the “cred­i­bly” ac­cused means this arch­dio­cese is se­ri­ous about mak­ing amends. Now, let’s keep the in­for­ma­tion com­ing.

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