Hundreds of accused clergy left off church’s sex abuse lists
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,
Judge Timothy Feeley, left, addresses former the Rev. Richard J. McCormick in Salem Superior Court in Boston.