Unmasking more predator priests
Thursday’s release of a list of predator priests who served in West Virginia is only a beginning for the Roman Catholic Church, in many ways.
One of them is that the shocking, disturbing revelations in the list may — and should — make the list longer. Church officials say that was one of their goals in making the information public.
There are reasons to believe they are right in expecting their action Thursday will result in more accusations against priests. One entry on the list itself reinforces that feeling.
Officials of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston said earlier this fall that they were compiling a list of priests against whom credible accusations of abusing minors had been lodged. The diocese includes all of West Virginia.
One of the credible allegations of abuse was reported to the diocese on Oct. 26 — two days after the church made public its intention to compile and release a list. It is entirely possible — likely, in fact — that the accuser’s report was prompted by the church’s announcement.
Now that the list has been released, more victims may decide it is time to come forward. Let us hope so, even though the initial list is appalling enough.
Actually, it is two lists. One, with 18 names, is of clergy who were accused credibly of abusing minors while they were serving in West Virginia. The other list, of 13 men, is of priests who worked in our state but were not accused until after they left it. Of those 31 alleged predators, 18 served in the Northern Panhandle.
To the diocese’s credit, the list contains details not always found in similar releases from other dioceses. Timelines, including when abuses were said to have occurred and when they were reported to church officials, are included.
A sickening number of the predator priests were never disciplined by the church. In some cases, the church acted but law enforcement did not. One explanation for that is that the age for legal consent to sexual contact in our state is 16.
Obviously, more needs to be known before certain conclusions can be drawn. For example, why was one priest accused while he was serving in West Virginia in 1982 — but not punished by the church until 2014, after he was accused in New Mexico?
It is easy to understand why many victims of sexual abuse never report it to anyone, and let us note that such reluctance involves many assailants with no links to any church.
But officials in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston seem genuinely concerned with uncovering injustices of the past and caring for victims. Their Thursday release of the list is an indication of that honest intent.
Those victimized by clergy, even if they were not believed in the past, should come forward now. Doing so is important for many reasons, not the least of which is protecting children in the future.
If you were a victim, call the diocese and, if appropriate, the police. If you know a victim, encourage him or her to make the call.
Do it. It’s important to you, other past and potential victims — and the church.