Hun­dreds of ac­cused clergy left off church’s sex abuse lists

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Clau­dia Lauer and Meghan Hoyer

Richard J. Poster served time for pos­sess­ing child pornog­ra­phy, vi­o­lated his pro­ba­tion by hav­ing con­tact with children, ad­mit­ted mas­tur­bat­ing in the bushes near a church school and in 2005 was put on a sex of­fender registry. And yet the for­mer Catholic priest was only just this month added to a list of clergy mem­bers cred­i­bly ac­cused of child sex­ual abuse — after The As­so­ci­ated Press asked why he was not in­cluded.

Vic­tims ad­vo­cates had long crit­i­cized the Ro­man Catholic Church for not mak­ing pub­lic the names of cred­i­bly ac­cused priests. Now, de­spite the dio­ce­ses’ re­lease of nearly 5,300 names, most in the last two years, crit­ics say the lists are far from com­plete.

An AP anal­y­sis found more than 900 clergy mem­bers ac­cused of child sex­ual abuse who were miss­ing from lists re­leased by the dio­ce­ses and re­li­gious or­ders where they served.

The AP reached that num­ber by match­ing those pub­lic dioce­san lists against a data­base of ac­cused priests tracked by the group Bish­opAc­count­abil­ity.org and then scour­ing bankruptcy doc­u­ments, law­suits, set­tle­ment in­for­ma­tion, grand jury re­ports and media ac­counts.

More than a hun­dred of the for­mer clergy mem­bers not listed by dio­ce­ses or re­li­gious or­ders had been charged with sex­ual crimes, in­clud­ing rape, so­lic­i­ta­tion and re­ceiv­ing or view­ing child pornog­ra­phy.

On top of that, the AP found an­other nearly 400 priests and clergy mem­bers who were ac­cused of abuse while serv­ing in dio­ce­ses that have not yet re­leased any names.

“No one should think, ‘Oh, the bish­ops are re­leas­ing their lists, there’s noth­ing left to do,’” said Ter­ence McKier­nan, co-founder of Bish­opAc­count­abil­ity.org, who has been track­ing the abuse cri­sis and cat­a­loging ac­cused priests for almost two decades, ac­cu­mu­lat­ing a data­base of thou­sands of priests.

“There are a lot of holes in these lists,” he said. “There’s still a lot to do to get to ac­tual, true trans­parency.”

Church of­fi­cials say that ab­sent an ad­mis­sion of guilt, they have to weigh re­leas­ing a name against harm­ing the rep­u­ta­tion of priests who may have been falsely ac­cused. By nam­ing ac­cused priests, they note, they also open them­selves to law­suits from those who main­tain their in­no­cence.

Ear­lier this month, for­mer priest John Tormey sued the Prov­i­dence, Rhode Is­land, dio­cese, say­ing his rep­u­ta­tion was ir­repara­bly harmed by his in­clu­sion on the dio­cese’s cred­i­bly ac­cused list. After the list was made pub­lic, he said he was asked to re­tire by the com­mu­nity col­lege where he had worked for over a decade.

Some dio­ce­ses have ex­cluded en­tire classes of clergy mem­bers from their lists — priests in re­li­gious or­ders, de­ceased priests who had only one al­le­ga­tion against them, priests or­dained in for­eign coun­tries and, some­times, dea­cons or sem­i­nar­i­ans ousted be­fore they were or­dained.

Oth­ers, like Poster, were ex­cluded be­cause of tech­ni­cal­i­ties.

Poster’s name was not in­cluded when the Daven­port, Iowa, dio­cese is­sued its first list of two dozen cred­i­bly ac­cused priests in 2008. The dio­cese said his crime of pos­sess­ing more than 270 videos and im­ages of child pornog­ra­phy on his work lap­top was not orig­i­nally a qual­i­fy­ing of­fense in the church’s land­mark char­ter on child abuse be­cause there wasn’t a di­rect vic­tim.

After he was re­leased from prison, the dio­cese found Poster a job as a main­te­nance man at its of­fice, but he was fired less than a year later after ad­mit­ting to mas­tur­bat­ing in the bushes on the prop­erty, which abuts a Catholic high school. Still, the dio­cese did not list him.

Poster went on to vi­o­late the terms of his pro­ba­tion, ad­mit­ting he had con­tact with mi­nors at a book­store and near an ele­men­tary school, fed­eral court records un­sealed at the AP’s re­quest show. A judge sent him back to jail for two months and im­posed sev­eral other mon­i­tor­ing con­di­tions.

Child pornog­ra­phy was added to the church’s child abuse char­ter in 2011 and, though the dio­cese promised it would up­date its list of per­pe­tra­tors as re­quired un­der a court-ap­proved bankruptcy plan, it never in­cluded Poster.

“It was an over­sight,” dio­cese spokesman Dea­con David Mont­gomery told the AP. He said the pub­lic had been kept in­formed about the case through press re­leases is­sued from Poster’s ar­rest un­til his re­moval from the priest­hood in 2007.

Poster, now 54, lives in Sil­ver Spring, Mary­land, near a school and two parks. He hasn’t been ac­cused of any wrong­do­ing for more than a decade and de­clined to com­ment when reached by the AP, say­ing he pre­ferred to stay out of the spot­light.

Of the 900 un­listed ac­cused clergy mem­bers, more than a tenth had been charged with a sex-re­lated crime — a higher per­cent­age than those named pub­licly by dio­ce­ses and or­ders, the AP found.

Dio­ce­ses var­ied widely in what they con­sid­ered a cred­i­ble ac­cu­sa­tion. Like Poster, some of the priests crim­i­nally charged with child pornog­ra­phy weren’t listed be­cause some dio­ce­ses said a vic­tim needed to re­port a com­plaint. In ad­di­tion to Poster, the AP re­view found 15 other priests charged with pos­sess­ing, dis­tribut­ing or cre­at­ing child pornog­ra­phy who were not in­cluded on any list.

Other dio­ce­ses cre­ated ex­cep­tions for a host of other rea­sons, rang­ing from cases be­ing deemed not cred­i­ble by a board of lay church peo­ple to the clergy mem­bers in ques­tion hav­ing since died and thus be­ing un­able to de­fend them­selves.

“If your goal is pro­tect­ing kids and heal­ing vic­tims, your lists will be as broad and de­tailed as pos­si­ble. If your goal is pro­tect­ing your rep­u­ta­tion and in­sti­tu­tion, it will be nar­row and vague. And that’s the choice most bish­ops are mak­ing,” said David Clo­hessy, the for­mer ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Sur­vivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who now heads the group’s St. Louis chap­ter.

The largest ex­cep­tions were made for the nearly 400 priests in re­li­gious or­ders who, while they serve in dioce­san schools and parishes, don’t re­port to the bish­ops.

“There are a lot of holes in these lists. There’s still a lot to do to get to ac­tual, true trans­parency.”

— Ter­ence McKier­nan, Bish­opAc­count­abil­ity.org,

FAITH NINIVAGGI — THE BOS­TON HER­ALD

Judge Ti­mothy Fee­ley, left, addresses for­mer the Rev. Richard J. McCormick in Salem Su­pe­rior Court in Bos­ton.

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