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Editorial: Church needs to make full disclosure in assuring parishioners and community

The Diocese of Buffalo failed the community by allowing priests who have been accused of sexually abusing children to remain in leadership roles.

Now, it turns out the church’s careless practices may have had other unintended consequences.

The News found eight priests from the Diocese of Buffalo accused of sexually abusing children living near elementary and middle schools. Reporters had to search public records to find the addresses of the eight priests. The diocese named 42 priests it said had credible allegations of sexual misconduct involving minors brought against them. But it declined to disclose their addresses.

The diocese should ensure the public knows of any such priests living in sensitive areas to forestall problems that could otherwise arise. The church should be upfront in managing this crisis and assuring the public. News staff reporter Jay Tokasz wrote that, in some cases, accused priests have been living across the street from a school or down the road only a few houses away.

Law enforcement’s role is limited. Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn Jr. explained the problem: Because they were never convicted of a crime, he said, “these individuals are not required to be registered” as sex offenders.
It is true these accused priests were never found guilty of any offense, so they are not in any local database for sex registry offense. Legally, they cannot be prevented from living near a school.

This worrisome situation circles back to the church’s past practice of protecting priests, sending them for treatment near Toronto and then sometimes returning them to parishes and schools. It was an ugly practice that put more young people at risk, and not just here but other parts of the country. Now, the community is dealing with the inevitable consequences of the hierarchy’s initial failure to treat child sexual abuse as the criminal matter that it is.

Two living priests on the diocesan list were prosecuted for crimes. However, their convictions did not require their names be added to a sex offender registry, and they are not on the federal sex offender registry or on registries in states where they reside.

The News reported several accused priests living close to schools, and some who no longer live in Western New York. The church should have released this information and any other information that might protect children.

It is, we know, a miserable time for the church, but it’s worse for the victims and parents who must continue to worry. The church needs to press beyond its comfort level in assuring parishioners and community. It starts with full disclosure.

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