LAFAYETTE — Diocese of Lafayette Bishop Michael Jarrell has steadfastly refused to reveal the identities of clergymen who sexually preyed on south Louisiana children decades ago.
Jarrell has questioned what good would come in releasing the names he alluded to in a 2004 diocese report, which acknowledged there had been 15 priests the Lafayette Diocese knew had sexually abused 123 children in the years prior to 1985.
But advocates for people abused by priests say that position is shortsighted, saying now-grown victims who have remained silent — who have kept the secret that their parish priest raped them — would find affirmation if they saw the name of their attacker released.
“They will say ‘I’m not crazy. I’m not the only one this happened to,’ ” said Barbara Dorris, the victim outreach coordinator for the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “It helps them to deal with the issue.”
Dorris said abuse victims often bury the attacks deep in their subconscious, with memories returning as long as decades later. Listing the names of the priests, she said, could help them and others.
Jarrell, the bishop in the Lafayette Diocese since 2002, has company when he declines to name names.
Like Lafayette, other Catholic communities in Louisiana, such as the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux and the Archdiocese of New Orleans, do not publish the names of priests known to have molested youths years ago.
Officials at those dioceses said that they, like every other one in the country, adhere to the rules set out in the 2002 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
The charter requires church officials to immediately call criminal investigators when an allegation is made, even though the abuse might have taken place years prior.
The charter also demands officials to be “open and transparent” in telling the public about abuse, but that the communication must be “within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved.”
Louis Aguirre, spokesman for the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, said victims of clergy abuse often request secrecy.
“When we make a settlement ... we have given the alleged victim the pledge of confidentiality,” Aguirre said. “They in turn can turn around and talk about it all they want.”
Even though the diocese has made at least one financial settlement with a man who claimed he was abused in the 1990s, Aguirre said “there has not been a case that we deemed to be true.”
Aguirre said that since the 2002 bishops charter the diocese has not alerted parishioners about allegations against priests because none have been credible.
At the Archdiocese of New Orleans, the names of priests who have new “credible” allegations made against them are released to the diocesan public, spokeswoman Sarah McDonald said.
She said the archdiocese has chosen not to publish the names of offending priests from decades past “because some may be deceased and to protect those whose allegations against them are not credible.”
The Diocese of Lafayette has never published a list of priests facing credible allegations of abuse, but former Lafayette Bishop Edward O’Donnell did make public the names of two priests and one high-ranking diocese vicar in 2002 who were each subject to allegations of sexual abuse involving acts decades before.
O’Donnell’s revelations came in the year when U.S. bishops formally approved a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing accusations of sexual abuse.
Jarrell, who was appointed to replace O’Donnell as bishop in November 2002, has made no similar public comments naming alleged abusers.
Jarrell has said there have been no allegations of abuse that occurred after 1984, but he declined to answer questions from The Advocate about whether there have been new allegations since he became bishop for abuse that occurred before 1984.
Not everyone criticizes Jarrell for his silence.
Dr. Maureen Brennan, a Lafayette clinical psychologist with expertise in treating pedophiles and their victims, has served since 2002 on an Diocese of Lafayette advisory board the reviews allegations of sexual abuse.
Brennan said she could not discuss the details of any particular case, but said that she feels the diocese has been open with the board about abuse allegations and she questions the value of making public the names of priests facing allegations.
She said publicizing the name of a priest who abused long ago could rekindle painful memories for victims who might have already had successful treatment.
“You always run the risk of reopening sealed wounds,” Brennan said.
Other U.S. dioceses that have been rocked by pedophile priest scandals do publish lists of long-ago offenders, sometimes after sexual abuse victims who won court settlements against the dioceses demanded that the names be publicized.
The Diocese of Wilmington in Delaware, for example, publishes the names of priests on its diocese website.
Wilmington spokesman Bob Kreb said the list was composed as part of a court settlement with survivors who wanted their attackers known to the public.
“This is an opportunity for the Diocese of Wilmington to make a fresh start, but we must never forget or gloss over the suffering endured by survivors of abuse,” Bishop W. Francis Malooly told diocesan members in an October 2011 letter. “We must continue to promote healing for the survivors, and keep our promise that, to the best of our ability, the mistakes of years ago will never happen again.”
There have been other court-ordered listings of pedophile priests, and a penalty was levied against at least one diocese for neglecting to keep the list current.
In Kansas City, a judge ordered the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph to pay $1.1 million in damages for failing to report a priest who had pornographic photos of young girls on his computer, a violation of a 2008 agreement to publish the names as part of a court settlement with 47 survivors of priest sexual abuse.
Dorris, the SNAP outreach director, said publicizing the names of known molesters serves a purpose: it alerts the unsuspecting public to sexual predators.
“Unfortunately, they don’t have a big “P” on their forehead so we know who they are,” Dorris said.