Catholic leaders in Texas on Thursday identified 286 priests and others accused of sexually abusing children, a number that represents one of the largest collections of names to be released since an explosive grand jury report last year in Pennsylvania.
"Today is a difficult day for the church in the state of Texas," said Dallas Catholic Diocese Bishop Ed Burns. "The failure to protect our most vulnerable from abuse and hold accountable those who preyed on them fills me with both shame and sorrow."
Fourteen dioceses in Texas named those credibly accused of abuse. The only diocese not to provide names, Fort Worth, did so more than a decade ago and then provided an updated accounting in October.
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Fulfilling a promise to the Catholic faithful, Bishop Edward Burns of the Diocese of Dallas Thursday released a list of 31 priests with "credible accusations" of sexual abuse against minors since 1950.
Of the list of 31 names on the list, 17 are deceased, three are retired (two suspended), three are suspended (one pending a lawsuit alleging abuse of a child), six are laicized (defrocked, no longer a member of the clergy), two are unknown and one is absent on leave.
To the victims who may never get justice, Bishop Burns said this:
"They were abused by men who were to be trusted and that trust was broken and innocent lives were shattered. For that it's important that we do whatever we can to reach out to victims and assist in their healing."
Only one of the 31 priests on the list, laicized Rudy Kos, is currently incarcerated.
"Today, I am following through on a commitment I made in October to provide the names of those priests who have been the subject of a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor in the Diocese during the period from 1950 to the present," Burns wrote in a letter to parishoners Thursday. "A “credible allegation” is one that, after review of reasonably available, relevant information in consultation with the Diocesan Review Board or other professionals, there is reason to believe is true.
Texas bishops decided in October to release the names "to protect children from sexual abuse" while promoting "healing and a restoration of trust."
"These have been very difficult days within the Church and the Diocese of Dallas," Burns wrote. "In October, the Diocese held a special Ceremony of Sorrow, a prayer service to express shame and deep remorse over the egregious sexual misconduct committed by some within the Church. Since that time, I have continued to pray for guidance, met personally with victims of abuse, held public listening sessions, worked with our Diocesan Review Board and our Victims Assistance Coordinator, and taken other steps to begin what I believe can be a process of healing and repentance."
Burns said the investigation would include all 1,320 Catholic parishes in Texas. The Diocese of Fort Worth said it had been releasing names since 2007 and had no new ones to reveal Thursday.
“The names of credibly accused in the Diocese were first made public in 2005. Since the Diocese’s list is current, there will be no updates,” noted Pat Scavina from the Fort Worth Catholic Diocese.
The head of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, also is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and is expected to attend a February summit called by Pope Francis to sensitize church leaders around the globe to the pain of victims, instruct them how to investigate cases and develop general protocols for church hierarchy to use.
Representatives from SNAP – the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests – plan to hold a news conference Thursday once the list is released. The group questions how the church will define "credibly accused" and whether all the relevant names will be released.
“I think that viewers need to realize this institution has shown time and time again it cannot police itself; that it cannot do the right thing,” said Paul Petersen, a SNAP leader from Dallas, who claims he endured years of sexual abuse as a child at the hands of Father Richard Johnson at St. Patrick Catholic Church in the Lake Highlands area.
Johnson was suspended by the Diocese of Dallas in 2006, and the church settled cases with three men who Johnson abused in the 1970s and 80s.
Attorney and child Stephanie Holan says there is hope.
Laws in Texas allow victims of child abuse to come forward regardless of when the abuse happened, she said.
Holan welcomes the list.
"It allows people to ask their children, if they're still children, you were around this person. Did this happen to you? But the second part, even if you're an adult not you understand you have the chance to bring those charges forward with your claims," she said. "This offers the person who didn't have the change to advocate for themselves when they were 8, 9, 10 to then have an unlimited chance to advocate for themselves once they're an adult.
Dallas attorney Tahira Merritt represented Petersen, as well many other church abuse survivors over the past 26 years.
She stressed that this release of names has been a long time coming.
“These crimes have been concealed for decades, and we want and opening up of the books, of their documents,” Merritt said. “So I think the dioceses are getting ahead of that by releasing the list of names.”
“Most of the people that are going to be on the list will not be able to be prosecuted criminally and that is a problem,” Merritt said. “And I think they could have made those lists available 20 years ago. We don't know how many children have been abused in the interim.”
Both Merritt and Petersen urged survivors of abuse, who have yet to report the crimes, to go to law enforcement and not to the church.
“The church has demonstrated they are not able to be forthright [or] have the victims’ interest at heart. Go to law enforcement to report the abuse, no matter how long ago it was,” Merritt said.
Petersen noted that there is a detective in the Dallas Police Department – David Clark – who has been assigned specifically to investigate claims such as sex abuse within the Catholic Church. He can be reached at 214-671-4301.