Two Jesuit provinces in the United States released lists of 84 clergy credibly accused of sexually abusing minors, the latest revelations in the Catholic Church’s long-running and morally damaging sexual abuse crisis.
The two lists, released separately on Monday by the provinces of Maryland and the Midwest, follow two lists released December 7 by the Jesuits’ West and Central/Southern provinces. A fifth North American province, the Northeast, plans to release its list of accused clergy on January 15, according to a spokesman.
Combining the four public lists, more than 230 Jesuits have been credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor in the United States since the 1950s, according to the provinces. Most of the alleged abuse occurred decades ago, before many parts of the Catholic Church in the United States instituted new safeguards after the last major sexual abuse scandal in 2002-2003.
“The Midwest Jesuits take this step in the spirit of transparency and reconciliation,” said the Rev. Brian G. Paulson, provincial of the Jesuits’ Midwestern province. “As we look back at our history, the failures of the Society of Jesus and the church to protect those entrusted to its care fill our hearts with outrage, sorrow and shame.”
Experts who track abuse and priest assignments in the church have questioned the Jesuits’ lists, saying they omitted dozens of priests who have been credibly accused.
“If the Jesuits aren’t including guys we already know about on their lists, then I don’t have a lot of confidence that they’re including the guys that nobody knows about yet,” said Terence McKiernan, president and co-director of the watchdog website BishopAccountability.org.
Each of the four provinces said they have asked outside firms to audit their files and will update their lists if more information comes forward.
The publication of the Jesuits’ lists of accused clergy comes as the Catholic Church, in the United States and around the world, is again grappling with a wave of scandals that have roiled the faithful, severely damaged the church’s moral credibility and decreased public trust in Pope Francis, according to surveys.
The Pope has convened a meeting of top Catholic bishops from around the world February 21-24 in Rome to address the crisis.
Saying they want to rebuild trust and increase transparency, bishops in 36 dioceses have released lists of credibly accused clergy since August, when a scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report accused Catholic leaders of turning a blind eye on the abuse of more than 1,000 victims by more than 300 clergy. There are 197 dioceses in the United States.
Separate from those dioceses, the Jesuits, formally known as the Society of Jesus, are one of Catholicism’s most powerful orders of priests, with Pope Francis among its most famous members. Known for their missionary work and emphasis on education, Jesuits have founded prep schools and elite colleges across the United States, where they now have about 2,200 clergy.
While details in the reports released Monday are sparse, several of the clergy accused in the Maryland province worked at those elite schools, including Gonzaga College High School, Georgetown Prep and Loyola University in Maryland. The reports, which begin in the 1950s, do not say where the abuse occurred, only the decade in which it was thought to have happened.
Some advocates for survivors of sexual abuse say these self-reported lists are unreliable and incomplete, because they do not detail when accusations were made, where the abuse occurred, or what was done after an accusation was made.
“If they are confident in the veracity of their lists and are truly committed to full transparency and healing for survivors, then Jesuit officials should follow up on this release by imploring attorneys general and law enforcement officials that serve the states in the Jesuit Maryland territory to launch independent investigations into their files,” said Becky Ianni, a leader in the DC-area branch of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
None of the accused priests in the Maryland province remains in active ministry, the province said in a statement, and the last time a Jesuit priest was accused of abusing a minor there was in 2002.
In 2003, after the Catholic Church’s last large-scale abuse scandal, the province and other Catholic groups instituted a “zero tolerance” policy, whereby priests accused of abuse are immediately removed from ministry until the accusation is investigated.
In 2011, the Jesuits paid a record $166.1 million to 470 victims who were sexually and psychologically abused as children from the 1940s to the 1990s.
According to the Maryland province’s list: Five current Jesuits in the province have been credibly accused of abusing a minor; eight priests against whom credible accusations were made have died or left the Jesuits; six accusations were deemed credible but “could not be fully investigated” because the Jesuit had died or other reasons; and five Jesuits from other provinces who have been accused of abusing minors in other provinces worked at one time in Maryland without similar accusations arising.
The five current Jesuits credibly accused live in a “restricted environment” with a “safety plan” that restricts their travel, use of technology and access to visitors, according to the province.
More than 1,700 Jesuits have belonged to the Maryland province since 1950, which extends to eight states and the District of Columbia, including: South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, southern New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
“We are deeply sorry for the harm we have caused to victims and their families,” said the Rev. Robert M. Hussey, provincial superior of the Maryland Province Jesuits.
“We also apologize for participating in the harm that abuse has done to our church, a church that we love and that preaches God’s care for all, especially the most vulnerable among us. The people of God have suffered, and they rightly demand transparency and accountability. We hope that this disclosure of names will contribute to reconciliation and healing,” Hussey continued.
The Maryland province said it plans to have an “outside audit of our files to ensure that our previous reviews were both accurate and complete.” Likewise, the West province said on December 7 that its files will be reviewed in the spring of 2019 by a former FBI official.
The Midwest province also said an “additional review” of its records will be made in 2019 by an outside investigative services firm.
According to the Midwest province: 37 living Jesuits were credibly accused of abusing a minor; 18 more were credibly accused after the abuser had died; and 10 were named in reports not independently verified by the province.
“An established allegation of the sexual abuse of a minor leads to the Jesuit’s permanent removal from public ministry and possible criminal prosecution,” said Paulson. “These Jesuits lead lives of prayer and penance, and are placed on restriction, under close supervision to insure the safety of the people of God.”
More than 4,000 Jesuits have served in the Midwest province since 1955, according to the province.