When the Church Defames Her Priests

Over the last two decades, the Roman Catholic Church in the United States has reeled under claims of clerical sexual abuse. The claims resulted in extraordinary liability and wide-spread publicity. When bad things happen in any organization, the counter-policies imposed to fix those problems often overreach. This is precisely what is happening with the decision of some dioceses to publicize lists of names of former clerics who have had claims of sexual abuse made against them. The rationale is that publication of these names serves an interest in “accountability.” The motivation to publish the names is not based on any civil law, court order, or other legal mandate, but simply on internal diocesan policy.

While the motivation may be understandable, many bad policies are the fruit of very good intentions. In the wake of the sexual abuse scandal, bishops have faced intense scrutiny over their knowledge and responsibility for acts of abuse that occurred under their watch or under their predecessor’s watch. No bishop, anywhere, wishes to be perceived as having failed to address a known problem. Conversely, every bishop, everywhere, wishes to be perceived as having taken strong action to fix a problem previously unknown and to prevent it from happening again. Surely, as a general goal, every bishop should do so in response to the sexual abuse crisis. Who could object to transparency and accountability?

So, who can object to publishing the names of former clerics who have had “credible claims” of sexual abuse made against them? To date, some two dozen dioceses and archdioceses have decided to publish lists naming names of those accused of sexual abuse. Some, like the Diocese of Gallup, publish a list of clergy identified by the diocese “as having credible allegations of sexual misconduct made against them.” Others, like the Archdiocese of Baltimore, publish a list of clerics who have been “accused of child sexual abuse during their lifetimes,” and for individuals accused after 2002 “information from the public disclosures that were made.” Still others, like the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, publish such lists under a page for “Status of Clergy,” that includes those whose ministry has been restricted and faculties withdrawn due to credible allegations of child sexual abuse, along with lists of those laicized or deceased who have also had credible allegations made against them, too. Some offer a rationale for publishing the lists; some do not. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops keeps statistics on those accused, but it does not publish any list identifying the individuals so accused.

Opus Bono Sacerdotii has assisted some 10,000 clerics over the past fifteen years who have been accused of misconduct. The organization has received the respect and accolades of many members of the hierarchy and at the highest levels of the Church, because of the organization’s dedication to offering unconditional love to those ordained in persona Christi, irrespective of the charges made against them. Some may have been credibly accused of misconduct; some not. All deserve to know the love of Christ. But we take special issue with those dioceses who think that publishing a list of names of clerics who have been “credibly” accused of sexual misconduct is warranted. We disagree for many reasons—canonical, theological, pastoral, and legal. It is this latter reason we wish to address here.

The Problem: Naming The Mere Accused
As a threshold matter, it is far from clear how a bishop’s publication of names serves an interest in “accountability.” If a diocese does not publish the names of those accused, does that indicate the diocese is hiding something? Is disclosure a kind of public confession, an acknowledgement that claims have been made against diocesan clerics and that the diocese is sorry such claims have been made? Will publication of names deter other clerics from engaging in misconduct? Will publication of names please all who made the claims? Why publish only names? Why not publish all details of the claims, too?

One sign that publication of names (or details of claims) does not serve any interest in accountability is that such a practice is entirely unheard of in the American employment experience. We are aware of no employer (large or small), no government entity (Federal, state, or local), that undertakes to publish as a matter of institutional policy the names of all individuals employed by that organization for whom “credible” accusations of misconduct have been made. That such a complete absence of practice exists is remarkable, as we live in an age in which employers of all kinds are subject to an extraordinary array of laws, the vast majority of which are designed to protect employees and to foster employer accountability in the workplace. Try to recall the last time General Motors published a list of all supervisors for whom credible claims of sexual harassment have been made over the last twenty years. It has not happened; it will not happen in the foreseeable future. And there are many reasons why it has not happened that have nothing to do with accountability.

One such reason begins with the class of individuals whose names are being published. The dioceses do not purport to publish the names of those individuals who have been criminally convicted of having sexually abused a minor. There is little to be achieved in publication of those names, as these identities have already been well-publicized through very public criminal proceedings. The same is true for civil court proceedings. Re-publication of their identities is both unnecessary and belated. Moreover, one should wonder why it would be appropriate to remind the public of those individuals whose names were in the public for having been charged with crimes, but who were ultimately acquitted of them or who successfully defended against any civil suit. Charges against those individuals may have been “credible,” but no interest is served if, after their day in court, they prevailed against those charges.

Rather, dioceses are proposing to publish the names of those who merely had “credible” charges against them. This is a very different class of individuals and may, or may not, include those who have been found guilty of criminal charges or who lost civil judgments against them. It could include a variety of other individuals, including those who settled cases out of court and who, like the vast majority of all civil defendants, agreed to settle on condition that they admit no wrongdoing. Some might object that settlement with no admission of liability undermines the truth of what happened, but that objection applies to every civil settlement everywhere and it is undeniable such a ubiquitous practice serves the interests of both the plaintiff and the defendant, which is exactly why settlements occur.

But there are plenty of other clerics against whom “credible” accusations have been made who, in fairness, deserve no publicity for those accusations. Clerics often cite a host of reasons why they will refuse to contest accusations made against them—they have reached a crisis of faith and decided that the accusations are a good excuse to leave the ministry; they do not believe they will be properly defended; they wish to acquiesce to the charges for the sake of spiritual goods; they have psychological or emotional problems unrelated to the claims made against them; they do not wish to contest the accuser for pastoral reasons; they fear they will lose their pension or health insurance; they fear the bishop to whom they have taken vows of obedience and have come to regard as the figure of God. Under all such scenarios, clerics deny the claims made, but decline to challenge them.

Then, again, there are scenarios where clerics will also refuse to challenge the claims made, not because they believe the claims are false, but because they only believe they are exaggerated. Lastly, there are those who simply admit guilt, because they did, in fact, engage in the complained about conduct. But in sum, the class of individuals against whom “credible” claims have been made includes individuals who both did. and did not, engage in the complained conduct.

Who Decides What?
And herein lies the problem, which explains why every other employer will refrain from publishing a list of names of employees it reasonably believes have engaged in misconduct: Who decides whether the claims of sexual abuse are “credible” or “substantiated?” The Bishop? His Chancellor or other delegate? A committee? Some law firm? What standards do any one, or more, of these individuals use to determine whether the claims are “credible” or “substantiated?” Standards of civil law? Canon law? Internal policies? Can we be sure the bishop made such findings impartially, or did he do so to protect himself? What conflicts of interest existed that were taken into account? What procedures were employed in the determination? Did the accused represent himself? Was he given the opportunity to be represented by counsel? Did he have the opportunity to confront his accuser? Was he even told the identity of his accuser? Did he acquiesce to charges irrespective of culpability for any of the reasons mentioned above—tired of the ministry and looking for a way out, or “offering up” the charges made against him? Did he have other undesirable “baggage” that colored the investigation against him? Were the standards employed twenty or thirty years ago the same standards applied today? Were outside professionals–psychiatrists, forensic examiners, detectives—employed? Were they not employed when they should have been employed? Were they screened for suitability and bias?

These are important questions for both sides—priest and bishop. And that these questions can be raised therefore highlights the crucial difference between informal and formal claims. By informal, we mean those outside the conventional legal process, where determinations are made apart from civil or criminal proceedings, and irrespective of whether some one person, or others, determines that the accusations are “credible.” By formal claims, we mean those that arise through the judicial process—the civil and criminal courts. Those courts, however imperfect, are the tribunals we trust to make proper findings of fact, and conclusions of law. Decision-making apart from the courts may well be superior—and even controlled by clear provisions of Canon Law—but that is of no consequence, because courts of law necessarily trump all other forms of decision-making. Truth is the goal of any investigation; legal process is merely the recognized means of determining it. And it matters not when a bishop rightly determines that a cleric should be removed from ministry due to “credible” claims of sexual abuse, or when General Motors determines that a supervisor should be fired due to “credible” claims of sexual harassment. The issue is whether the bishop is right to publish the names of those so accused.

But neither the bishop, nor any private employer, is a recognized surrogate for the American civil and criminal court system. In fact, some diocesan statements candidly admit they assume no such surrogacy and note, by way of disclaimer, that just because someone’s name appears on the list, does not mean “a presumption of guilt” exists. This admission is extraordinary. The bishop is publishing a list, ostensibly to let the public know which of his former clerics has been accused of sexual abuse, but he is cautioning the public to know that such individuals might be innocent of those charges. One would expect that caution would tip in favor of non-disclosure, not disclosure. It does not work to say, in effect, that: “I have reason to think you are a sexual abuser, but I don’t know for sure if you are.” A published list is tantamount to a bishop’s “Megan’s List,” without any of Megan’s Law behind it. Ironically, clerics who have been adjudicated of sex abuse crimes will already be on a “Megan’s List.” What is worse (for accused clerics): Individuals on Megan’s List can get their names removed; the bishop offers no such allowance for those on his list.

And that is precisely what is at stake here when a bishop decides to publish the names of those whom he thinks have had “credible” accusations made against them. Those whose names are so published therefore have potential claims for defamation, and other civil claims, which the civil courts will review, to determine the truth of those accusations, not whether they were “credible.” If the accusations are untrue, then whether the bishop believes they were “credible” is irrelevant; he has published defamatory information.

Claims Against The Bishop
Because a bishop stands before his priests in the same role that an employer does for his employees, it is worth considering the kinds of civil claims a former cleric may make against his bishop for having published his name on a list of those whom the bishop believes that credible accusations of sexual abuse exist. First, there is defamation—known as “slander” where oral communications are concerned, and “libel” when communications are in writing. Defamation is simple in concept: a plaintiff must prove (1) the defendant made a false and defamatory statement concerning the plaintiff; (2) the defendant made an unprivileged publication to a third party; (3) the publisher acted, at least negligently, in publishing the communication; (4) special damages, at least in some cases.

The first element—whether a communication is defamatory—is established if the communication “tends so to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community, or to deter third persons from associating with him,” (as the Restatement on the Law so states). As the law readily finds defamatory communications to exist when they indicate that the plaintiff was involved in a serious crime involving moral turpitude or a felony, a bishop’s indication that a former cleric may have committed sexual abuse surely meets this standard. It matters not whether the bishop believes the allegations are true, and is simply, for the sake of accountability, publicizing allegations made by others. A claim for defamation is sufficient when it impugns the cleric’s good name or reputation, which, of course, would happen here, given the explosive nature of the charges made. If the bishop were to simply pass on allegations made by others, the bishop can be held liable for defamation by neglect.

The bishop would be on untested grounds to argue the second prong of a defamation: that he had a “privilege” to publish this information to third parties. A bishop’s decision to reveal accusations to an inquiring employer may be, but is not always, permitted. In such cases (often recognized by a specific state statute), the bishop may enjoy a privilege to communicate such information. But we are unaware of any court that has allowed a bishop (or for that matter, any private employer) to make a gratuitous public disclosure of such information as a matter of “privilege.” In short, if a bishop aims to publish the names of accused clerics, the bishop should be prepared to defend the truth of every one of those allegations, or suffer the consequences for having defamed them.

Another likely claim a former cleric could raise against the bishop would be a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Such claims are established when the plaintiff shows a defendant has engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct, and that such conduct has caused the plaintiff to suffer severe emotional trauma. What conduct is extreme and outrageous? Courts vary on this. But to our knowledge, they have not sanctioned publication of lists of names of employees merely accused of misconduct. Solid arguments can be advanced that a bishop’s publication of names of individuals, who are presumed innocent as a matter of law, is both extreme and outrageous, especially as it conflicts with every known employment practice in the United States. The presumption of innocence lies at the core of the American judicial system. Even those individuals charged with despicable crimes, like child abuse, enjoy that same privilege: that they are innocent until proven guilty. A bishop would rob them of that privilege by letting them be tried in the court of public opinion, which is hostile to the point of being judged “lethal,” murder and suicide both included.

And the anguish former clerics could suffer is both real and extreme. What families could be broken up, what friendships could be destroyed, what jobs could be lost, what contracts could be terminated, simply because one’s name appears on a list of former clerics for whom “credible” accusations of sexual abuse existed? What physical attacks, what emotional outbursts, what suicides will occur because one’s name is on a list? Whatever such damages may occur, the bishop could well be liable for them all. How ironic that a bishop, who aims to demonstrate his concern for one victim of abuse, will thereby create another victim of abuse—and end up paying large amounts of damages to each in the process. How doubly ironic that a bishop who initiates such a policy may someday find himself on the list.

Two other similar common law claims may lay within the former cleric’s domain: invasion of privacy, and interference with a contract. A former cleric who proves a bishop has made public a false reference, or disciplinary matter about him, could make a claim for invasion of privacy. In addition, a former cleric who proves the bishop gave false or misleading information to others that led to the termination of a contract (employment or otherwise) could make a claim for intentional, or negligent, interference with contractual relations. Current employment contracts of these individuals would certainly fall within this scope. Would a bishop really wish to accept liability for all former clerics who lose their current jobs because of his publication of their names?

Attracting The Media Hurricane
One unintended consequence of publishing names of accused clerics is the media interest that may arise because of it. Those who are hostile to Church interests do not praise a bishop for his openness; instead, they question his motives for doing so. Rightly or wrongly, questions may arise over why the bishop is releasing these names. Is he doing so to deflect scrutiny over his past conduct? Does he think this will avail him of support when later questionable actions of his come to light? Nothing in the history of modern media relations indicates either of these scenarios would work to his advantage. Nor will he have any control over which way the hurricane will blow when a media frenzy occurs. Nor will he have any control over the media leaks that will occur from those in his own bureaucracy, who have less than pure designs. If the threat of civil liability does not deter a bishop from publishing names of accused individuals, the prospect of a media hurricane should. Far from receiving credit for publishing those names, the bishop may well receive opprobrium, and for reasons unconnected to the particular publication.

And then there are those victims who themselves have moved on with their lives. How they will be shielded from media attention remains to be seen if, and when, disclosure of their identities arises by naming names of the accused. And for those who truly are victims, it is far from clear how a ten-second clip on the evening news, or a quote on the front-page daily, will better their lives, as they relive details they have tried to leave behind. Arguably, the bishop advances his claimed interest in accountability, but at the expense of the victim whose past is now dredged up again for further review.

One reason (among many) why private companies refuse to publish names of accused offenders is the effect such publication would have on morale. As most employees would say, “My colleague’s name published today; my name, tomorrow.” What priest will not wonder whether his name will be publicized, and forever connected to heinous misdeeds, if some allegation is made against him, and if he finds himself twisting in the wind unable to counter it, and if his bishop (or his delegate) finds the claim “credible?” One need not have a fertile imagination to think of the myriad of ways in the past several years that priests have been thrown into the diocesan buzz saw, and been cut to pieces, their lives ruined, as fear-mongering has led to a spiritual “Reign of Terror,” where the loss of one’s collar feels like the loss of one’s head. At a time in history when priests are most in need of support, comes a millstone in place of a life-ring.

If a bishop were truly interested in “accountability,” why not poll the priests who serve under him, and see if they think such a policy serves that interest? What percentage would it take to convince him the action is inappropriate and unwarranted—70, 80, 90 percent? Is it hard to imagine that nine out of ten priests would oppose such an initiative? We don’t think so, based on our limited queries. Is any administrative decision worth acting upon when ninety percent of your rank and file are opposed to it? Cannot the Holy Spirit be discerned through consensus?

While to our knowledge, no former cleric has yet sued a bishop for landing on a “credibly accused” list, we suspect that the time is at hand for such lawsuits. A great many priests have felt betrayed and mistreated by accusations made against them, and their stories are legion. If they have declined legal action to date, it is for many reasons, fear being chiefly among them—fear of media attention, fear of retaliation (such as loss of pension or health benefits on which they critically rely), fear of challenging their spiritual leader. But fear will eventually give way to indignation, and indignation to civil suits; the bishops should not be surprised if and when a counter-offensive occurs. The bishops have enjoyed a de facto immunity from such suits to date; they will face a difficult task in finding de jure immunity when those suits eventually occur.

WWJD? What is the Imitatio Christi in such situations?
Finally, we are left to ponder what we should have considered first: What would Jesus do? Would Jesus publish the names of individuals for whom only reasonable grounds of guilt exist, when those individuals are presumed innocent as a matter of law? We are unsure he would even publish the names of individuals who are found guilty in criminal proceedings—“Let the dead bury the dead” (Lk 9:60). We are not suggesting Jesus would take no corrective action or discipline. Far from it. But corrective action or discipline is not at issue. What is at issue is the mere voluntary publication of names, and we see no Gospel interest advanced in doing so. To the contrary, we see an initiative designed to protect the bishop, and his quest for transparency, that may benefit him, but will harm others.

In sum, we see no good reasons why bishops in the United States should depart from the path that every other employer observes who is subject to the same legal system. They should let the legal system control the truth-finding process of guilt or liability for sexual abuse claims, and not substitute it for their own judgment, however well-intentioned. Such a practice not only exposes them to significant legal liability, unwarranted media attention, and bad morale; it is not even the Christian thing to do.

Joseph R. Maher About Joseph R. Maher

Joseph R. Maher is founder and president of Opus Bono Sacerdotii, an organization committed to helping priests cope with a variety of personal and legal problems.

David A. Shaneyfelt About David A. Shaneyfelt

David A. Shaneyfelt is a California attorney engaged in private practice.


  1. Avatar Katie Dux says:

    St. Gerard didn’t defend himself when he was accused. Not denying an accusation is not proof of guilt.

  2. Avatar Katie Dux says:

    St. Gerard didn’t defend himself when he was accused. Not denying an accusation is not proof of guilt.

  3. Avatar J. E. Sigler says:

    A very detailed, thorough, and well argued article. I started out skeptical of the argument but was thoroughly convinced halfway through that it is indeed wrong to publish these names. Thank you, gentlemen, for a very enlightening piece.

  4. Avatar Chuck D. says:

    Bishops: one strike and you’re out.(regardless of the lack of proof or witnesses.) Jesus: “you will deny me three times….” Yet, made him head of the Church and Prince of the Apostles.
    The number of guilty Bishops … pension and nice house. Reported: some accused priests living out of a dumpster
    Thank God for Opus Bono, run by laymen!! If Bishops gave a rats alpha for priests
    they would financially support this Christ-like work.
    I’ll be watching for these lawsuits to start.

  5. WWJD? Well He wasn’t known for making lists of sinners, but by all means, whipping people and flipping tables has always been an option. Let’s get these Bishops on a list for the sin of gossip, and Caricature Assassination. Sometimes you end up so high in the food chain, you have no mercy for those who are under you, and need a little reminder, you can be brought down too.

    Long Live OBS

  6. Avatar Ted Heywood says:

    If the NCCB published a list of Cardinals and Bishops that have had these cases proven in court or settled out of court then the practice of listing unproven accusations against priests by the Bishops would stop really fast.

  7. Maybe bishops have received kickbacks from lawyers.

    • Avatar Bill Gaudry says:

      That is always a possibility, Doc. But I think the real problem is that post Vatican 2 bishops have lost their mojo. If they ever had it to begin with.

      • Avatar Bill Gaudry says:

        I had a classmate who was accused AND fought back with a “holy” vengence. He won his case(s) in a court of law. But the Vatican was afraid — repeat, AFRAID — to allow his full ecclesiastical vindication. He was to be assigned “desk duty” for the rest of his active priesthood. That still wasn’t good enough for S.N.A.P. God rest Cardinal George’s soul, but that cowardice shown to Father X was the most shameful thing he ever did. Father X asked for his retirement—-10 years early. It was granted. Several years later, he passed away. S.N.A.P. is out of control like a rudderless boat — and needs to be stopped.

      • Avatar Fr. Antinarelli says:

        Most of them are interested in money. Period.

  8. Avatar Sylvia Sanchez says:

    Our Bishop in Richmond took out the priestly faculty of our Filipino priest because of some evil people who complained to the Bishop. Those people accused him of not providing a financial statement for our first Filipino San Lorenzo Spiritual Center that was founded by our priest. The Bishop took legal action; had it audited, and found no misuse of funds. The center was paid for in 4 years; still have $300,000.00 in the bank for the 2nd phase. The people fought for this priest up to now, but no mercy from the Bishop. The people hired a legal counsel and asked the Bishop to return the money of the people for the 2nd phase since its more than ten years now, and the 2nd phase was not built. Some people got their money, some did not. Our priest used to work for a hospital; the Bishop took that away, too.

    • Avatar Anna lidzbarski says:

      Your priest was Christlike, so he got persecuted. So did the cure of ars, so did padre pio of petrelcina, so do all our holy priests.

  9. Avatar Ryan A. MacDonald says:

    When Bishop John McCormack of the Diocese of Manchester, NH, released to the public a list of the names of accused priests on February 15, 2002, it was because the Archdiocese of Boston did it just a week earlier. I have no doubt that this was what Bishop McCormack was instructed to do by Cardinal Sean O’Malley. He, in turn, was instructed to do this by his lawyers and insurance companies. These are not the actions of the Church, but rather of the Church’s bishops who decided that the voice of lawyers spoke louder to them than the voice of the Gospel. Bishop McCormack expressed to one priest involved that he feared the tactics of two groups: SNAP and Voice of the Faithful both of which had become “merciless and relentless” in their public criticism of Bishop McCormack who buckled under that criticism. The days when bishops had the courage to preach the Gospel even in the face of oppression now seemed to be days gone by. Bishop McCormack could not have predicted that SNAP would fall apart under clouds of hubris and greed as exposed in this important article: http://thesestonewalls.com/gordon-macrae/david-clohessy-resigns-snap-in-alleged-kickback-scheme/

  10. Avatar Father Frank Fusare CPM says:

    + Thank you to Mr. Maher and Mr. Shaneyfelt for a very well-written article in defense of innocent priests. I did not realize that such lists were being published, but I am glad you knew and exposed the poor reasoning behind them. I hope many bishops will read your words, be moved positively by them, and cease publishing those lists since they can bring about no good for anyone in any way.
    God bless you both for your courage, and may He bless Opus Bonus Sacerdotii for all of the great work it has provided to priests in need.

  11. Avatar F.J. Collins says:

    As labor lawyers, representing a teacher’s union, my law firm represents teachers accused of child abuse. There is little or no difference between a priest being accused of abuse and a teacher, other than the added hypocrisy. In Maryland there is some level of due process for the wrongly accused when they are placed on the Child Abuse Registry. An archdiocese creating its own such list is doing its priests and the public a disservice since there are insufficient checks and balances, rules of evidence, standards of proof, etc. I urge all wrongly accused to vigorously defend themselves both in court and with their employer. In today’s world, the failure to defend yourself is tantamount to an admission of guilt.

  12. Avatar Deacon Thomas Aumen says:

    I agree with your message. I spiritually cry, also, when a news publication feels it has the ‘right’ to re-hash 50 year old information, either to satisfy its ‘yellow journalism’ agenda, or its anti-Catholic slant on life. (Diocese of Harrisburg, PA. York Daily Record) I pray for our clergy.

  13. Avatar F.J. Collins says:

    Upon further reflection on this, it comes to mind that almost any unionized worker would have the right to take his or her case to a labor arbitrator. Doesn’t it make sense for Bishops to adopt that practice? The American Arbitration Association will provide experienced arbitrators for a modest fee (I have no financial interest in making this recommendation).
    An outside arbitrator could conduct a hearing, providing due process to the accused. Although priests are not unionized, they certainly should have at least the same right to protect their reputation as an electrician, firefighter, teacher, police officer, or grocery store clerk. If procedural protections are not adopted, far fewer will answer the call — the risk of ruining your life by being subjected to false accusations is too great. It’s hard enough being a priest without having to deal with that. I reject the notion that the priest should accept the accusations humbly without defending himself. Being wrongly persecuted may get you into heaven but it is an evil that must be opposed here on earth.

    • Avatar Delphin says:

      You are on to something; priests should not cooperate with the evil being perpetrated by their bishops. They do so when they do not defend themselves (if innocent). Lack of self-defense must be perceived as suspicion of guilt.

  14. Avatar Deacon Ed Peitler says:

    As a mental health professional and Catholic deacon, I have long felt that this category of “credible accusation” has amounted to a gross injustice against priests and has simply compounded the original affront to a victim by creating yet another. I have long thought that when an accusation is made, a cleric should be temporarily suspended and the matter referred to civil authorities for investigation and possible prosecution. If no charges are filed, then the cleric should be restored to his ministry. The problem lies when the Church sets up a legal apparatus that parallels the civil one. With regard to the latter, it does a poor job because it’s trying to do something for which there is no expertise.

  15. I understand the arguments of the article and agree with them. The question, however, is even more complex. Dioceses need to be much more careful about priestly formation, with whom they admit to join the Priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and then not have to deal with much worse situations like those that are surfacing in the United States, and in many other places. And besides, I still prefer bishops who expose the problem, and do not act in a mafia-like way, as if they were proclaiming “comparsas“. This really can not have room in the Catholic priesthood. The problem is that, for lack of more criteria in the admission of these priests, today the situation is already much more serious.

  16. Avatar R.V. G. says:

    It was Dallas, Texas, 2002, the then named NCCB met to determine how they would react to the media onslaught initiated by the Boston paper. The bishops chose the path of least resistance. In less than 24 hours, they made a decision which would affect thousands of bishops and priests, along with millions of their families and friends, leading to the suicide of several priests over false, at times, allegations, given 24 hours to vacate their rectories, and too often put out by the bishops in the streets without funds, insurance, or pension. (Just like Jesus would do?). Rather than to say we are going to extend our meeting, and resolve this matter, they chose to make a quick decision, and forgot the old saying: “When in doubt … DON’T.” I can’t believe at that time any bishop had such pressing duties at home that he could not have stayed longer. Archbishop Gregory chose to keep the meeting on-course. At the end of the meeting, the bishops, as a group, agreed to throw their priests under the bus. I’m quite certain they did not think any bishop would be credibly accused, they were wrong, and the list of pedophile bishops, or bishops accused, was long. The priests accused were thrown out to fend for themselves after 20, 30, 40 , 50 years of faithful ministry. The bishops gave no heed to the victims who had long ago gotten on with their lives … no, the bishops insisted they come forward, that they disrupt their now peaceful lives, and bishops put out ads on TV, radio, newspaper, church bulletins,begging, begging people to come forward even it they “remembered” something happening a half century ago, or longer. The ordinary person saw this as the bishops saying: “We have tons of money. Please, please come and get it.” And come, many did. The bishops had little, or no use for their priests, and simply believed any accusation, no matter how long ago, or even if the priest was dead for multiple years. They did not care that a priest, living or deceased, could not defend himself. They also knew that no priest would sue them for misusing their office, or for slander. WHy? Because they held the purse strings. They could take away any pension, insurance, or anything else a priest had, and imposed great fear on every accused cleric. In Dallas, they decided if a priest simply hugged a person while fully clothed, or if the priest / bishop was a full-blown pedophile, they received the same sentence. No one in the world believed this to be fair. Only the bishops, Taliban, and ISIS could get away with this injustice. But only one, yes only one priest-Cardinal, had the guts to stand up in the NCCB, and say what they were doing was WRONG. That was the late and great Cardinal Avery Dulles. The bishops basically laughed at him for being an old man who was out-of-touch. You can read his article on the Opus Bono Sarcedotii Website. He was against the injustice the bishops were inflicting on their priests. Only a handful of bishops voted against the Dallas Charter, the courageous ones. Years have passed, time has not healed this awful situation caused by the awful decision of the bishops. So many have, and continue to be, hurt. But if you can find a bishop who would apologize, or say they acted in haste in 2002, you probably would also find a needle in a haystack. Bishops do not admit to making mistakes. By and large, they put on the, rule with the rod of fear, continue to wear hierarchy garments … miter … staff … to intimidate others while having the blood of priests who were forced to kill themselves because they saw no hope, on their shoulders. They have no feelings for the families who have been hurt because bishops cannot quickly enough put out the names of any priest who has not had an opportunity for a trial, or fair judgment. They just want a clean slate so that when the yearly audit is made they will look nice, and get a passing grade. How wrong is this? I wonder when these same bishops will hold a service in honor of the falsely accused clerics. A service saying we rushed to judgment. Don’t expect it in your lifetime. This is not the nature of bishops. This was not meant to castigate all bishops, there are a few who are trying, but to say how grateful I am to Opus Bono Sacerdotii for their great work, and for having the courage to write such a brilliant, honest article. God bless OBS, and all who support them. Wouldn’t it be great if every bishop in the USA had a yearly special offering to help them with their Christ-centered work. Thank you.

  17. Avatar Richard Kunz says:

    David, Thank you so much for this inspired and much needed article. God bless both you and Joe for your response to priests.

  18. Avatar Rev Richard R Pena (retired) says:

    Thank you very much for your articles. They bring us peace and healing to many of our beloved priests. I will always continue to support as much as I can financially. May God continue to bless you and your family always.

  19. Avatar Andrew Blake says:

    The article fails to deal with the real cause of the problem: the web of intrigue, blackmail and fear that is the hallmark of active homosexuals wherever they infiltrate whether it be the church or any organization or society in general. The bonds of sodomites are stronger than any other loyalties.

  20. Avatar James Foley says:

    The sad truth is that we don’t have a priest problem, we have a bishop problem. Beginning in the late 40’s when he founded Servants of the Paraclete to minister to troubled priests, Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald became convinced that the very small minority of priests with long-standing pedophile sexual traits were intractable to the interventions that worked for other troubled priests. These priests were psychopaths who were emotionally detached from their victims and adept at lying to their superiors. He found that they could not be trusted with children under any circumstance. He vigorously advocated segregating such priests in monasteries or defrocking them in numerous letters and meetings with bishops. He even met with Pope Paul VI to warn him about the danger of grave scandal and damage to the Church. What happened? Nothing, the bishops preferred to listen to their psychiatrists. By ignoring the small minority of truly sick priests like Fr. Shanley, they created the basis for the current witch-hunt mentality where every priest has to walk a tight rope and the the credibility of the Church has been gravely impacted.

  21. Avatar bumble bee says:

    Our faith calls us to care for all, sinner and saint alike. However, since the RCC has not come fully clean in this ongoing scandal, victims/survivors are still out there who have not come forward, publishing names of those accused does much for victim/survivors. It allows v/s to know that they are not the only one who was victimized, that there are others too who have been gravely harmed by a particular priest which eases their guilt/shame that it is all their fault. It can give solace to v/s to know the perpetrator is no longer hiding behind the church or hopefully allowed to abuse again. This church is not victim/survivor oriented, and is still actively fighting any measures in which they should be held accountable.

    No one wants to see an innocent person/priest having to face the consequences of something they never did. That is not justice either. However, again we are exactly where we are in this scandal because of the failures of the hierarchy. They could have ended this scandal decades ago, but because they refuse to deal with the problem efficiently it has festered.

    I do not know anything about OBS or how they minister to people. I am not for throwing people to the dogs, or any other unmerciful methods. However, I hope in their ministry they are getting their priests to acknowledge what they did, accept fully how much damage they have created, will accept accountability and the ramifications. This church, our faith cannot withstand any more back door shenanigans of concealing, denying, rationalizing, minimizing what this scandal is or what it did/does. Hopefully it is done in a caring, compassionate manner, and just like a good confession where all sins are confessed so each can be fully reconciled to God, so too do I hope this organization practices the need for full truth, full repentance, understanding of how grave the sins are, and ultimately forgiveness.

  22. Well, we all know how it is: an accusation is the same as a conviction. We feel something, therefore it is.

  23. Avatar Josee Allen says:

    This is the sort of (in)justice that pertains in Islam. A neighbor, an enemy, a jealous or envious person can make an allegation about a person and the victim is stoned without evidence, trial or mercy. Well done Catholic Church, why have you allowed yourself to become the Evil One? Hasn’t SNAP been found to be corrupt?

  24. Avatar Denny Becker says:

    I am a priest from a small diocese in Minnesota who has been falsely accused by someone from over fifty years ago. Our diocese does not even look into the accusations. They run scared of the Anderson Law Firm currently being sued for its “kickbacks” for SNAP attorneys. Our review board is merely a paper tiger to fullfill the requirements of the Dallas Charter. My name has been published in all the local papers as “credibly” accused. My faculties were removed. I would like to know if any other priests like myself would be interested in slander lawsuit against their bishop. I would welcome any contacts to discuss this matter.

  25. The church has changed, not for the good, Pope Francis promised to “clean house” of any criminal in the hierarchy. He missed two. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston infamy now moved into the Vatican and given the title of Archpriest. Cardinal Roger Mahony of LA now retired. You say…
    ” If a diocese does not publish the names of those accused, does that indicate the diocese is hiding something?” The diocese should not be involved because the air is already clouded with suspicion. It should be turned over to law enforcement to pursue criminal prosecutions

  26. Avatar john mattras says:

    Let’s be realistic. I don’t think the author really intends to reduce priests to mere “bureaucrats” or “employees,” but that is the underlying gist of the entire article. In fact, there are many practical reasons priests should be held to a higher standard, not the least of which is the ongoing access to children that many who have been accused of sexual abuse still enjoy – whether inside or outside of a church ministry. That many credible abuse cases have been thrown out due to expired statutes of limitations also makes a compelling case for disclosure. I agree dioceses should come to an objective standard of “credibility” before committing to disclose the names of those accused. But, in fact, such standards already exist. If an accusation does not meet a legal standard of “credibility,” dioceses that disclose names of accused priests would be opening themselves to lawsuits for libel. I have little doubt that diocesan attorneys apply such standards before signing off on the release of names.

  27. From the day the scandal of sexual abuse and the priesthood first emerged in the American public consciousness, Opus Bono has been on the front lines to defend the Church as a mirror of justice, to defend the truth, and to defend the priesthood. I have been a recipient of that defense and I am most grateful to Opus Bono. There is a lot more to the story than most people know and here is one example: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/weapon-mass-destruction-catholic-priests-falsely-accused-macrae

  28. I won’t name my parish or my former Pastor, but I will state here and now that naming a Priest ~ ANY Priest, guilty or innocent, to THOUSANDS of parishioners ~ simply because he does not stick up for himself and going on rumors or accusations of guilty conduct is ABOMINABLE. ….IMHO….
    With absolutely no known proof and merely believing statements provided by women stemming from years ago, this is NOT indication that anything was really done. As previous commentators have already reminded us here, Our Lord Himself admitted (or denied) nothing. And I daresay, as a faithful and lifelong Catholic, I’m sure He knew what He was about!!
    But to come out and destroy the reputation of anyone ~ especially a PRIEST ~ is WRONG.

  29. The HYPOCRISY among the Bishops is one of the serious causes of this problem. Some bishops don’t really care for their priests, ONLY THEMSELVES. They use legalism and rationalism to hide their Lack of compassion. They should be ashamed of themselves. I believe in KARMA. These bishops are worse than the PHARISEES whom Jesus had described as like White Graves with lot of SKELETONS inside themselves.


  1. […] When the Church Defames Her Priests – Joseph R. Maher & David A. Shaneyfelt J.D., H&PR What Do We Know about the Regensburg Scandal? – Lucandrea Massaro, Aleteia lit: Catholicism for Young Adults – T.J. Burdick O.P., Dominican Institute From Reversion to Reversion: How a Deist Became a Theist, Part I – Alex Wolke, Cthlc Stand Is It Time for a New Land O’Lakes Statement for Higher Education? – Tom Hoopes, Aleteia A World War Being Waged, Not with Weapons, but Ideas – Fr. Roger J. Landry, ICL™ Ascension Roundtable: Do’s and Don’ts of Catholic Fundraising – Brice Sokolowski Dear Catholic Bloggers Who Defend Game of Thrones – One Mad Mom Helping the Children Victims of Divorce – Lynn Cassella-Kapusinski, NC Register Striking Phenomena During This Centennial Year of Fatima – Fr. Richard Heilman, RCM The Myth of Autonomy: Catholic Univs. Needed, Now More Than Ever – The Editors, NCReg In Communion Debate, Cogent Arguments All On One Side – Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith, CH Chaplains to the Zeitgeist – Tom Piatak, Crisis Magazine Former Anglican Bishop Finds a Home in the Catholic Church – Jim Graves, The CWR Quæritur: Can I Wear a Rosary Like Warriors Wear Weapons? – Fr. Z’s Blog A New Catholic Moment in the U.S.: Recap of the Catholic Convocation – Matthew E. Bunson […]

  2. […] Source: When the Church Defames Her Priests – Homiletic & Pastoral Review […]

  3. […] When the Church Defames Her Priests – Homiletic & Pastoral Review […]