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Editorial: Release the names of priests accused of sexual abuse

Bishop Richard J. Malone should trust his instincts. Before his assignment as leader of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, Malone held a similar post in Portland, Maine. There, in contrast to long-standing policy in Buffalo, he publicly identified priests accused of sexually abusing children. That’s what he should do here.

The good news is that he’s considering it. It’s the most honest course and surely no more painful than the drip, drip, drip of revelations of abuse. It’s also the policy that will most quickly allow the diocese to move past a scandal that has reignited in recent weeks and that, absent some affirmative action by the bishop, seems likely to continue that pattern. With the new disclosures, the matter has become more urgent.

Malone has forthrightly acknowledged the pain that child sexual abuse brought to the victims of some of the diocese’s priests. He has offered an apology whose sincerity seems utterly genuine. Catholics and non-Catholics, alike, can be grateful for his words and his actions.

But, as he seemed to understand in Portland, more than that is necessary. Secrecy is an infection. Acknowledgement is a salve, both for victims whose abuser remain protected and for the community at large. It’s a necessary signal of seriousness of intent that dioceses beyond Portland have understood.

Sixteen years ago, for example, the Diocese of Rochester named six priests who were removed from ministry. Six years ago, the diocese updated the list with additional names while describing which men had been dismissed from the clerical state and which cases were being reviewed by the Vatican.

Across the country, more than 30 dioceses and archdioceses have publicly identified offending priests, according to the website bishopaccountability.org. Why should Buffalo need to be different? If something distinguishes this diocese to make similar acknowledgements unwise, the church would do well to explain it. Otherwise, the inevitable appearance is that the diocese remains reluctant to fully come to terms with a terrible time in the church’s history – one that long ago bled into the realm of legitimate public concern.

It’s true that the issue is complicated. A single, unverifiable allegation abuse probably isn’t sufficient to warrant public identification. Victims who don’t want to be identified have to be considered, as well.

And, it’s hard not to believe that Malone is under internal diocesan pressure to keep the information secret, in the hope of avoiding more unwanted, uncomfortable attention. It’s a natural impulse, though ultimately self-defeating.

Names of more priests accused of accused of sexual abuse of children are becoming known. Many more are being kept secret. Diocesan officials said in 2003 that they had received 93 complaints of sexual abuse against 53 clergy since 1950. In the past 15 years, the Buffalo diocese has received 15 to 20 additional complaints, according to its attorney, Terrence Connors.

Those numbers retain their power to shock, but they are no longer unexpected – not in light of what is known of the extent of child sexual abuse with the church. Surely, it’s time for the diocese to get right with this.

By identifying those who have been credibly accuse of sexual abuse, the diocese can remove whatever cloud may hang over its many good and devoted priests. And it will send a wholesome signal to those who might consider such reprehensible conduct that they have no friends in the church’s high places.

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