The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has a list of 33 priests accused of sexual abuse involving minors. But unlike other Roman Catholic archdioceses that have published similar lists in recent years -- Milwaukee, Chicago and Baltimore, among others -- it has refused to do so.
The archdiocese's list has been around for nearly eight years and is the subject of at least one lawsuit filed by a man who says he was sexually abused as a teenager by a former Twin Cities area priest.
The question of whether to reveal the priests on the list came into question again this week when St. John's Abbey in Collegeville released the names of 17 monks who have faced credible allegations of sexual abuse or other misconduct. The disclosure was part of a settlement of lawsuits against the abbey.
St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who has represented thousands of clergy sex abuse victims, and victims' rights advocates have pressed to make such lists public for years. Doing so helps victims heal, leads others to come forward and protects children from possible future abuse, they say.
"Until all the names of the all offenders become known and exposed ... other survivors will suffer in secrecy and silence and shame until they know they're not alone," Anderson said. "Kids remain at risk. Those offenders could be in schools, our neighborhoods; they could be in churches."
Archdiocese officials counter that releasing the list could subject someone who is innocent to false accusations. Andrew Eisenzimmer, legal counsel for the archdiocese, says at least eight of the 33 priests on the list are dead and the rest no longer are in the ministry.
So far, the courts have sided with the archdiocese and barred publication of the list. Mike Finnegan, an attorney with Anderson's law office, said the Diocese of Winona has a similar list with 13 alleged abusers from the clergy identified, but it too has been kept private by court order.
"I don't believe all of them [33 priests] have been credibly accused," Eisenzimmer said. "I'm largely basing this on what I know about each of those cases."
U.S. bishops commissioned the John Jay College of Law in New York to compile a nationwide statistical summary of the clergy abuse of minors not long after the church's clergy sex abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002. Dioceses were asked to review their records over the past 50 years and submit data for the study. Among the findings by the Twin Cities archdiocese: A total of 26 diocesan priests had been accused of sex abuse involving minors. If priests of other religious orders and other dioceses who had worked in the archdiocese were included, seven more priests, 33 in total, were known to have been accused of abusing minors.
Eisenzimmer said that that total hasn't increased since the information was submitted to the John Jay study almost eight years ago.
"We included people in the John Jay study that probably there's serious doubts about whether the allegations are true or not," he said. "The study asked us to identify allegations of sexual abuse. But it defined allegations quite broadly, as any accusation that's not implausible. To be ... as honest as we could, we put people in that category where there had never been a criminal proceeding to determine whether they had abused someone; there had never been a civil proceeding of any sort."
Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks Catholic clergy sex abuse cases, said he's aware of about 24 dioceses that have made public lists of clergy accused of sexual abuse involving minors.
Publication can help victims heal and encourage others to come forward, he said. They also can help prevent future abuse, he argues. Often, the listed priests have never been prosecuted or charged because the statute of limitations has run out.
"If the list isn't out there, survivors are going to suffer in silence," he said. "Until they know that someone else has suffered the same thing they did, they think they're the only one. Many of the priests on the lists are still alive. The question is, 'Who are they, and where are they?' Is one of those priests the kind gentleman that moved in next door and is very kind to your kids?"
Restoring trust in Milwaukee
Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for the archbishop of Milwaukee, said that archdiocese began in 2004 to publish a list of "restricted" diocesan priests "due to substantiated reports of sexual abuse of a minor." At the time, victims' rights advocates and others were calling for such a list to be made public. The list is updated regularly online at the archdiocese's website, Topczewski said.
"We felt that in the climate in Milwaukee at the time ... that this was a good step in rebuilding trust, being transparent and providing information in a way that provided the assurances ... that we've done our due diligence in responding" to abuse reports, Topczewski said.
Eisenzimmer stressed that the Twin Cities archdiocese is in compliance with nationwide church regulations aimed at protecting children. By not publishing the list of the 33 accused priests, "we've taken a different approach, which I think is kind of a nuanced approach, and is respective of victims, it's respective of the parish community, it's respective of the leadership in that parish community," he said.
Rose French 612-673-4352