Saying the nation’s ongoing scandal of priests involved in sexual misconduct is tearing the church apart, Catholic officials in Texas began releasing a long-promised report detailing credible allegations of sexual misconduct involving children against priests dating back to 1940. The state’s fifteen dioceses were expected to release the names and details of priests, deacons, and other clergy members. The release began with a 23-page report by the Archdiocese of San Antonio. There has been some expectation that this list might be the largest of its kind released so far. Pennsylvania released a list of over 300 priests last year. With more than 4.6 million Catholics in Texas, it is the largest religious denomination in the state. By day’s end, the details of sexual misconduct involving more than 303 members of the clergy came out in fifteen separate reports.
“As I write these words I am deeply aware of, piercing my body and to the depth of my soul, the bitter wind that has been sweeping through the church, causing turmoil, confusion, and anger,” Archbishop Gustavo Garcia Siller, of San Antonio, the largest in the state, said in the report released Thursday afternoon. “Allegations of clerical sexual misconduct and mishandling of some of these cases by bishops are tearing the church apart, and the challenge for us as a church is to renew our commitment to holiness and justice.”
Moments later, the second largest archdiocese, that of the Houston-Galveston region, released a list of forty members of the clergy as well as two under investigation currently. “This list is being presented to the faithful of the church in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston as part of an effort to bring around the restoration of trust,” the report said. “As archbishop of this local church, I extend my deepest regret for the harm that has been done,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston. “In multiple incidents over the years, the church and her ministers failed to protect the most vulnerable souls entrusted to our care. There is no excuse for the actions of those credibly accused of such sins against the human person.”
The San Antonio report said it was laying out all known reports of clergy sexual abuse of minors dating back to 1940 for the San Antonio archdiocese. In cases where the allegations were found “not to be credible,” the report lays out the details but does not name the cleric. Over the past 79 years, the report said, the archdiocese has had more than 3,000 priests minister to the Catholic faithful. Of those, the names of 56 priests and other clergy were listed.
Last August, a Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed that over three hundred priests have been credibly accused of sexually assaulting over one thousand children in Pennsylvania over the past seven decades. It was then declared one of the broadest inquiries into church sex abuse in U.S. history. Hundreds of pages of graphic details described children being molested, assaulted, abused, and neglected by priests and other church leaders covering it all up. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all,” the grand jury wrote in its report.
As a result of the decades of cover-ups by the Catholic church, most instances of abuse were too old to prosecute, the statewide investigation in Pennsylvania found. According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, victims who were minors at the time of the crime have twelve years after they turn eighteen to file charges. Victims over the age of eighteen have two years. In Texas, adults have five years and child sexual abuse victims have fifteen years after their eighteenth birthday before the statute of limitations kicks in.
In contrast to Pennsylvania’s report, which was done under the auspices of the Pennsylvania attorney general, the Texas release is being done by the Catholic church itself, raising concerns about its reliability. “We cannot rely on the church to tell the truth,” said Tim Lennon, the president of the board of directors of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). “The church could have released the names a year ago, five years ago, or ten years ago. The only reason that they’re releasing names is they’re compelled to do so because they have been exposed.”
But some clerics in Pennsylvania said they took steps to avoid the appearance of a cover-up. Bishop Lawrence Persico was the first in Pennsylvania to release names of sex offenders in his own diocese last April, four months before the grand jury report. The investigation was led by external investigators hired by the church who identified 21 laypeople and 13 priests at the time. “I don’t investigate allegations,” Bishop Persico told Texas Monthly. “I turn it over to our investigation team. They’re professionals. Some of them were federal prosecutors. I’m not an investigator. I’m a priest, a pastor. I don’t have all of the resources to do that. And besides, then it’s in-house. Whereas this is someone who’s outside [doing] the investigating.”
The updated public disclosure on Bishop Persico’s diocese website now has more than 70 names. The grand jury report, which only included the names of priests, listed 41 names for the Diocese of Erie later that fall. However, actions like these have not eased the minds of many Catholics parishioners when cover-ups by church leaders have been exposed even after the steps to release more names. For example, Cardinal DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston faced scrutiny last year after being accused of knowing, and covering up, the sexual abuse “episodes” of a priest who stayed in the ministry for years, the New York Times reported.
Jennifer Graber, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin, explains that the cover-ups and ongoing withholding of information by the church regarding abuse can be tied back to the long history of extreme anti-clericalism in the United States as well as in other parts of the world. Catholics who saw priests as “the ultimate spiritual authority” felt they needed to defend their clergy to anti-priest narratives, sometimes leading to the protection of abusers as well. “Religious institutions, and all kinds of [other] institutions across the board, have histories of abuse,” she said. “But one thing that developed [in the Catholic community] was a particularly strong institutional and hierarchical culture [of] not only defending all priests but sometimes defending priests who abused. It really kind of laid the groundwork for an environment in which that strong, very elaborate hierarchy made for a setting in which abusers could be easily protected, and they were.”
Since the case in Pennsylvania, attorneys general in fifteen states have launched criminal investigations, turning the heads of Texas Catholics awaiting a similar response from their own attorney general. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton received hundreds of letters pleading for a statewide investigation, but state laws restrict him from doing so, he told KXAN. Because the investigating of clergy is up to local law enforcement, the attorney general can step in only when those agencies ask for assistance.
At times likes these, when the faithful are questioning whether they should choose to stay or to leave the church indefinitely and when fingers are being pointed in every direction, everyone agrees that, at the end of the day, the most important actions must be to support the victims. “It’s not enough just to release names,” Lennon said. “Without action to follow, it’s kind of hollow. When people have been harmed, it’s the responsibility of those in charge to provide comfort, care, support.”
SNAP provides support in the form of counseling and support groups as well as hotlines and other resources for reporting abuse to authorities. Carol Midboe, a Texas organizer and advocate for SNAP, hosted a candlelight vigil at St. Williams Church in Round Rock on Wednesday, the eve of the scheduled release of the list for survivors of sexual abuse. She encouraged attendees to bring photographs of themselves or their loved ones who were victims at the age of the abuse or other objects remembering those who were lost to drugs, alcohol, or suicide.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are one in four girls and one in six boys in the United States who will be sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday. I pray the Texas diocese will release all names of those known and accused of indecency with a child or misconduct with a vulnerable adult,” one person who spoke at the vigil said. That’s a sentiment shared and felt by many others around the state who anxiously await the release of the names that could change their lives and the lives of those around them forever.
“We are going to name their names, and describe what they did—both the sex offenders and those who concealed them,” the grand jury wrote in the Pennsylvania report. “We are going to shine a light on their conduct, because that is what the victims deserve.”
Number of Clergy credibly accused
|San Antonio (archdiocese)||56|