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Church in Crisis

Reaction mixed to cardinal’s Internet posting of names of abusers


Baltimore Cardinal William Keeler’s decision to release the names of more than 50 priests and religious brothers accused of child abuse in the archdiocese, and to post those names on the archdiocese’s Web site, was, according to some observers, a welcome display of openness after years of hierarchical silence. Others called it a gross violation of due process.

The Sept. 25 release included summaries of accusations against the clergy, including some who are now deceased and others who deny the accusations.

“After much reflection and prayer -- and following a thorough review of our records, going back decades -- I have decided that we must be more open and transparent in our efforts to eradicate this evil within our church,” Keeler said in a letter to 180,000 archdiocesan households. The release is in keeping with the “transparency and openness” called for in the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” approved by the U.S. bishops in June, said Keeler.

The release of information received mixed reactions.

Sorrow is widespread. “I think there is a great sense of sadness among the lay folks when they actually see the name of the priest and the parishes they were associated with,” said Fr. Richard Bozzelli, pastor of Corpus Christi Parish, Baltimore. “Once you start putting names and places together, the immediacy and the palpability of the issue come forward.”

Anger is apparent. “This left a lot of negative feelings among the priests and laypeople,” said Fr. William Au, pastor of Sts. Philip and James Parish, Baltimore. “We need to be open, direct and honest in dealing with instances of child abuse, but there is a strong feeling among the clergy that this pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme. Once the information was covered up to avoid scandal, now the hierarchy is trying to protect the institution.

“There’s a certain sense of hypocrisy, with bishops focusing on dealing with the clergy but not focusing on dealing with their peers,” said Au, noting that no action has been taken against bishops who moved abusing priests from parish to parish. Baltimore priests are discussing what steps they might take to protect their rights to due process, said Au.

Meanwhile, Keeler received qualified support from abuse victim advocates.

Release of the information was “a good idea, and it appears be bold primarily because no one else has used the Internet this way,” said Mark Serrano, board member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP. But, said Serrano, “If Cardinal Keeler is truly devoted and dedicated to openness and transparency, then we need to know more.” At a minimum, said Serrano, case files and personnel files should be opened to an independent review panel.

On Sept. 25, Keeler revealed that the archdiocese has paid more than $4 million, most of it covered by insurance, in the last two decades to settle abuse-related suits against the church.

National Catholic Reporter, October 11, 2002