For transparency, San Bernardino diocese lists priests credibly accused of sex abuse

Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral in San Bernardino, Calif. Credit: Farragutful via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral in San Bernardino, Calif. Credit: Farragutful via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

.- A list of 34 priests credibly accused of abuse in recent decades was released Monday by the Diocese of San Bernardino. The local bishop has apologized to victims and said the failure to protect children has led to “new awareness” about the “terrible scourge” of sex abuse.

“When we read this list we are pained to think of the many lives that were impacted by the sinful and unlawful acts of those priests who committed them,” Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino said. “Some will recognize names on this list, more will recognize the parish communities where they served. It makes this crisis more local to us, and may increase our feelings of sadness and outrage.”

He encouraged victims of sex abuse by a Church minister or those who know victims of such sex abuse to “please come forward and report it.” He offered his apologies and deepest regrets to the victims of those listed and to the Catholic faithful, “who have been scandalized by this shameful chapter in our Church’s history.”

“Apologies, at this point, can seem hollow and I regret that because I can imagine how painful this has been in the lives of many victims,” Bishop Barnes said. “Still, I do want to state my sincere apology.”

The list, released Oct. 8, draws from diocesan records and files documenting abuse reports made to diocesan personnel. The records include follow-up reports to priests and Diocesan Review Board discussions.

In the most recent cases, credibility of an accusation was determined by the Diocesan Review Board. In older cases, credibility was determined from facts reported by diocesan personnel at the time of the accusation, an admission from a priest, or from police or legal documents.

The diocese characterized the list as a “good faith effort” to “disclose the names of all priests with credible allegations.” Any additional credible allegations in the future will be added to the list. The latest allegation is from 2014, which was reported to child welfare authorities. Of those priests listed, 29 of the 34 names are “already in the public domain.”

John Andrews, communications director for the San Bernardino diocese, said those six not previously named had been reported to the police, but hadn’t been reported in the press nor were letters read to the faithful about these priests. He said the diocese had responded to the allegations responsibly.

Six of the priests on the list have been convicted in criminal court. All but one priest on the list have been dismissed from the clerical state, permanently banned from ministry in the diocese, or have died.

The whereabouts of the one priest who left the diocese in 1993, Paul Nguyen, are unknown. He had been incardinated in the Diocese of Oslo and served at St. Francis de Sales in Riverside from 1992-1993. The allegations against him were made known to the diocese in February 1993. He was also suspended and reported to the police.

Before 1978, the territory of the diocese was part of the Diocese of San Diego, which has released a similar list. Credibly accused priests who served in parishes of San Bernardino or Riverside counties from before that time are included on the San Bernardino diocese’s list.

There are presently about 1.6 million Catholics in the diocese out of a population of 4.9 million. About 1,900 priests have served in the diocese’s territory.

Andrews told CNA the list represents “a painful, tragic chapter in the history of the diocese.”

“We make no excuses for the actions of these men,” he said. “They are reprehensible actions and they are not consistent with what the Catholic faith is all about, about how we are to treat each other as human beings, especially as it relates to caring for children.”

He said the list’s release will create “raw, painful feelings,” especially for victims. “We stand ready to listen to them, to try to help them in their healing process with our action and our prayer.”

Bishop Barnes reflected on the effects of the sex abuse scandal.

“While we will always bear the mark of this scandal, our failure to protect children in earlier years has ultimately led us to a new awareness and an illumination of this terrible scourge on all of society,” he said, citing Christ's words in the Gospel of Luke: “there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.”

The bishop noted that since 2002 six priests have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. Of these, three were alleged to have committed an act of abuse since that year, while the other three alleged abuse incidents took place before 2002.

The bishop emphasized the diocese’s work since 2002, including its adoption of a “zero tolerance” policy for clergy with credible allegations of abuse and its close work with law enforcement in “all reports of abuse.”

Fingerprinting and extensive background checks are now mandatory for all clergy and lay employees of the diocese, and all diocesan ministers must take part in training to recognize and prevent the sexual abuse of children.

The diocese also established the Diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection to ensure safe environment policies and pastoral code of conduct are followed.

The list’s release was prompted by the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report covering a 70-year period across six dioceses in the state. The report alleged more than 300 priests had sexually abused over 1,000 children in that time frame.

Andrews said much of the abuse took place in the more distant past. He noted that only six credible cases had been reported in the last 16 years, compared to 28 cases in the previous 24 years. He said there has been more education about sex abuse and current diocesan response is “very solid.”

He said the diocese has adopted habits to encourage transparency and accountability, such as releasing the list of accused clergy.

“I think the Church is in a crisis that calls us to a greater level of openness, and we are hoping making the information public in this way will help the healing process for victims first and foremost and also for the Catholic faithful of our diocese as a whole,” he said.

“When we have an allegation that’s credible, we go to the parishes where that priest was, we announce that there is an allegation, and if anybody has been abused by this person, (ask them) to come forward,” he said.

Tags: Catholic News, Diocese of San Bernardino, Bishop Gerald Barnes