Photo Credits: MDS Intercontinental
Recently, many Catholic leaders have been credibly accused of sexual abuse and for some of them the statutes of limitations may have expired, so they haven’t been convicted of any wrongdoing. On the other side, the Catholic Church doesn’t want to punish them in other way than by removing them from their posts. Actually, if priests choose to leave their dioceses or religious orders — or if the church decides to permanently defrock them in a process known as laicization — leaders say the church no longer has authority to monitor where they go.
A new investigation from Claudia Lauer and Meghan Hoyer of the Associated Press found out that nearly 1,700 priests and other clergy members that the Roman Catholic Church considers credibly accused of child sexual abuse are living under the radar with little to no oversight from religious authorities or law enforcement, decades after the first wave of the church abuse scandal roiled U.S. dioceses.
These priests, deacons, monks and lay people now teach middle-school math. They counsel survivors of sexual assault. They work as nurses and volunteer at nonprofits aimed at helping at-risk kids. They live next to playgrounds and day care centers. They foster and care for children.
After leaving the church some of them also committed crimes, including sexual assault and possessing child pornography, the AP’s analysis found.
According to the Associated Press, some of credibly accused priests continued normal living and work – 43 went to minister at new Catholic churches or in other denominations, 33 went to serve as priests in a Catholic diocese overseas, 14 served in lay positions such as music director, lector or Eucharistic minister, 11 have served to fill in as priests at Catholic churches and 11 have served in administrative roles in the Catholic church.
We can see that it is a problem to monitor and track priests who often were never criminally charged and, in many cases, were removed from or left the church to live as private citizens.
As the Associated Press finds out, after Roger Sinclair was removed by the Diocese of Greensburg in Pennsylvania in 2002 for allegedly abusing a teenage boy decades earlier, he ended up in Oregon. In 2017, he was arrested for repeatedly molesting a young developmentally disabled man and is now imprisoned for a crime that the lead investigator in the Oregon case says should have never been allowed to happen.
Other experts who study child abuse have suggested the church create a database similar to the national sex offender registry that would allow the public and employers to identify credibly accused priests. But even that measure would not guarantee that licensing boards or employers flag a priest credibly accused but not convicted of abuse.