Church must keep information coming
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.