SAN DIEGO – Against a backdrop of renewed concern about how bishops and dioceses around the country handled allegations of sex abuse by clergy, Bishop Robert W. McElroy announced a series of measures to respond to what he called “the perfect storm” of news falling on the faithful.
His intent is for the diocese to be as compassionate, proactive and transparent as possible at this critical time when many Catholics are angry at revelations contained in a Pennsylvania grand jury report and a scandal involving alleged abuse of both minors and adult seminarians by former Cardinal and former Washington, D.C. Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. The measures taken by Bishop McElroy include:
- An ongoing review of diocesan records to identify and publish the names of priests who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors since the 1950s;
- Announcing eight “listening sessions” across the diocese, from Oct. 1 to Nov. 5, to hear directly from the faithful about their experiences, concerns and ideas for reform;
- Initiating a consultation process with the priests and lay leadership at the diocese, seeking their insights and input;
- Plans to work with fellow bishops who are advocating for reforms that hold bishops more accountable and formulate concrete proposals before the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in November of this year.
- “It’s critically important for everyone in our Church, from the people in the pews to the priests, to know that our words are being backed up by actions,” Bishop McElroy wrote in a letter to priests.
The shocking revelations starting in Boston in 2002 led the U.S. Catholic Church to adopt strict programs to prevent sexual abuse of children and an independent process to review accusations. In California, legislators lifted the statute of limitations for one year, 2003, allowing victims to sue the Church for abuse, even if it was alleged to have been committed decades before. Significantly, the Catholic Church did not oppose that legislation.
In 2007, the diocese paid $198.1 million to settle lawsuits filed by 144 victims of sexual abuse of minors by its priests. Statewide, California dioceses settled with more than 1,000 victims and paid out more than $1.3 billion in damages.
Also in 2007, as part of its bankruptcy proceeding, the diocese published a list of priests who had been credibly accused of abusing minors. The list was split into two parts — one listing priests from the San Diego and San Bernardino dioceses and another listing visiting priests from other dioceses and religious orders. In 1978, the Diocese of San Bernardino separated from the Diocese of San Diego. Until then, they were one diocese.
Recently, as part of an effort to respond to questions from parishioners and the public, the diocese began a review of its records to see if additional names should be added to that list.
The names of 51 priests appear on the list, which can be found on the diocesan Web site (www.sdcatholic.org). Eight names had never been published before; of those five are dead, and three are alive or assumed to be alive. The alleged abuse is believed to have taken place between the late 1950s and the mid-1990s.
None of the priests is in active ministry. All of them have either been laicized, left the priesthood, or had any faculties from the Diocese of San Diego stripped from them. The list shows their names and where they served. It will be updated as needed.
Bishop McElroy said he took the extraordinary step of releasing the names to help victims of abuse to heal by acknowledging their pain and to invite other victims of the priests on the list to step forward for acknowledgement and healing.
He expects to hear the voices of victims of abuse at the eight meetings the diocese will hold in the following weeks. These listening sessions begin on Oct. 1 at Our Mother of Confidence Parish and end on Nov. 5 at the University of San Diego, with stops at parishes in downtown San Diego, Imperial Beach, El Cajon, El Centro, Rancho Santa Fe and Poway.
“These meetings will seek input from people in the pews on the pathway to reform, listening to those who have been victimized by clerical sexual abuse either directly or in their families, and praying for God’s grace to be our only guide,” he said.
In announcing the meetings, the bishop acknowledged the role some bishops played in allowing abuse to occur decade after decade.
“For me as a bishop there is an additional level of shame, because in many instances, this abuse was magnified by the leadership of the Church that placed fear of scandal and the culture of clericalism ahead of the protection of young people,” he wrote.
The bishop noted that the reforms enacted by the U.S. Catholic Church in 2003 contributed significantly to the dramatic drop in cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests. He said the same successful strategy, guided by independent laity, should be used to hold bishops accountable not only in their personal life but for the administrative decisions they make in response to allegations of abuse.
The U.S. bishops will debate the proposed reforms at their annual fall General Assembly in Baltimore next month. The president of the U.S. Catholic Conference, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, announced the outlines of a reform plan in August as a response to what he called a “moral catastrophe” the Church was facing.
He and a contingent of bishops, including Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles, met with Pope Francis on Sept. 13 at the Vatican to discuss the dire situation in the United States. Later that day, the pope called for an extraordinary global summit in February to address to the sexual abuse crisis.
Diocese Plans Eight Listening Sessions
During October and early November, the San Diego Diocese will hold eight listening sessions across the region. These meetings will focus on seeking input from people in the pews on ways to strengthen the voice of the laity in reviewing allegations of clergy misconduct involving both young people and vulnerable adults, on creating a framework for accountability that applies to bishops in their administrative actions and personal lives and on listening to those who have been victimized by clerical sexual abuse either directly or in their families. It is Bishop Robert W. McElroy’s wish, with these sessions that “God’s grace be our only guide.”
Schedule of Listening Sessions
Oct. 1, Monday, 7 p.m., Our Mother of Confidence Parish, 3131 Governor Dr., San Diego 92122
Oct. 3, Wednesday, 7 p.m., St. Joseph Cathedral, 1535 Third Ave., San Diego 92101
Oct. 4, Thursday, 7 p.m., Our Lady of Grace Parish, 2766 Navajo Rd., El Cajon 92020
Oct. 5, Friday, 7 p.m., St. Charles Parish, 990 Saturn Blvd., San Diego 92154
Oct. 6, Saturday, 9 a.m., St. Mary Parish, 795 La Brucherie Road, El Centro 92243
Oct. 17, Wednesday, 7 p.m., Church of the Nativity, 6309 El Apajo Rd., Rancho Santa Fe 92067
Oct. 18, Thursday, 7 p.m., St. Gabriel Parish, 13734 Twin Peaks Rd., Poway 92064, Msgr. Charles Dollen Hall
Nov. 5, Monday, 10 a.m., USD-Joan B. Kroc Institute, 5998 Alcala Park, San Diego 92110