Bishop Michael Duca on Thursday released the names of 37 Roman Catholic clergymen credibly accused of sexually abusing minors — the first major effort in the Diocese of Baton Rouge's 58-year history to acknowledge and apologize for the sins and crimes of clerics, some of whom remained in ministry for years after allegations were made against them.
The list, Duca's top objective since becoming bishop five months ago, included 14 diocesan priests, 15 priests from religious orders, one seminarian and seven priests assigned to the Archdiocese of New Orleans who had also served in Baton Rouge. Nearly two dozen of those called out Thursday had never been publicly accused of abuse.
In some cases, reports of abuse stretched back decades. In others, diocesan officials reported they had only recently learned of the misconduct. The abuse occurred throughout the 5,500-square-mile diocese, which stretches across 12 civil parishes along and near the Mississippi River. The priests often had contact with non-Catholics as well, as some were posted in hospitals and prisons.
Most of the abuse occurred during the tenure of former Bishop of Baton Rouge Joseph Sullivan, who himself is on the list for repulsive behavior here and elsewhere. At least 14 priests were estimated to have abused minors across the Diocese in the 1970s and early 1980s, while Sullivan was in charge.
“In every case of abuse on this list I am sure that the victim was told, ‘Don't tell anyone,’” Duca said during a Thursday news conference in which he apologized for the culture of secrecy and protection that has often surrounded allegations of sexual abuse within the Catholic church.
“They heard this from their abuser, but also from the church. Sometimes overtly, ‘Okay, we will take care of Father and you just keep this a secret,’ or they felt an unspoken institutionally expressed rule of the church that, you just are not supposed to talk about these things,” Duca said. “My hope is that this list is a concrete sign that we do want to talk about this.”
Some survivors, though, felt Thursday’s revelations didn’t go far enough. Charles Bishop, who said he was abused by ex-priest Christopher Springer in the late 1970s and early 1980s, questioned how Springer continued to spend time around children even after church officials received complaints. Diocesan officials noted that they received a report of Springer’s abuse in 1981, but the priest was not removed from ministry until 1985. At least 30 people have alleged abuse by Springer.
“Not a day should have gone by,” Charles Bishop said. “It should have been made public, too. They act like they want to protect all the victims, but they were really protecting the priests and they’re just trying to save face right now, and I don’t think it’s going to stop abuse.”
Both Springer and Sullivan were also named Thursday on a list of priests who were credibly accused of abuse in the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas.
And Springer wasn’t the only priest who remained in ministry for years after being accused of abuse. Clyde Landry, for example, was a diocesan priest whose first report of abuse was received in 1988. While Landry resigned from his pastorate that same year and left the diocese in 1990, he remained in the priesthood.
Brennan Tomeny, who said Landry abused him when he was young, confronted Duca at his Thursday news conference. Tomeny told Duca that people are less worried about moving on from the sex-abuse crisis and more concerned with preventing a future recurrence.
“They want to know it’s not happening right now under their noses, again, today, the same way it happened in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s,” Tomeny said.
Duca said he will continue to publicize any future allegations of sexual abuse within the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
“I can honestly say, I am not aware of any hint or possibility that this is going on in our diocese right now,” Duca said.
After being accused of abuse, Landry remained a priest, and, in fact, became the co-director of “aftercare” at the infamous Villa Louis Martin home to rehabilitate pedophile priests in New Mexico. His priestly faculties were not removed until 1999, and even after he left the priesthood, more complaints continued to trickle into the Diocese of Baton Rouge, with allegations surfacing in 2002 and 2004.
Landry’s alleged abuses occurred at a number of postings, including St. Aloysius and St. George in Baton Rouge, Holy Family in Port Allen and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in St. Francisville.
Landry died in 2003.
"In a few cases, some limited ministry was permitted for those who admitted wrongdoing," according to a list of questions and answers prepared by the diocese and released along with the 37 names. "The diocese is gravely sorry for this failure. Bishops in the Church and experts in the psychological sciences handle these situations very differently now."
In other cases, priests who were alleged to have sexually abused people within the Diocese of Baton Rouge went on to face similar allegations elsewhere. After Claretian priest Dan Drinan faced a claim of sexual misconduct in the Diocese of Austin in 2002, someone reported to the Diocese of Baton Rouge in 2003 that Drinan had abused them in the late 1970s at LSU’s Christ the King Church. It was not until 2006 that the Claretian order removed him from ministry, and in 2012, he pleaded guilty to indecent exposure on a commercial aircraft in Colorado.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore released a statement Thursday that said his office and law enforcement would review each case and evaluate whether there was enough evidence to move forward, given the statutes of limitation for various crimes.
David Clohessy, former national director for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said that, after looking at the Diocese of Baton Rouge’s list, he suspects it is incomplete, noting that other dioceses have released similar lists without full or accurate information. Clohessy encouraged victims, whistleblowers and other witnesses to come forward to create a complete accounting of the problem.
The diocese said its definition for “sexual abuse” covered more than physical misconduct. The Catholic Church’s canon law also defines sexual abuse as “words or actions which attempt to solicit a minor for sexual purposes, even if there is no subsequent sexual contact.” That definition encompasses acquisition, possession or distribution of child pornography, or sharing pornographic material.
Duca said Thursday that two events over the summer triggered his desire to release the list. The first was a Pennsylvania grand jury report in August 2018 that found 1,000 minors had been victimized by 300 priests statewide over decades while Catholic leadership in Pennsylvania protected the clergymen. The second was a scandal involving Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., who resigned as abuse allegations against him mounted.
Duca said Thursday that auditors had reviewed the files of 1,033 clergymen dating to 1961, when the Diocese of Baton Rouge was carved out of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He said the list would be updated if the diocese were to receive additional evidence of sexual abuse.
The bishop added that he understood the pain for people learning for the first time that a beloved priest might have been an abuser, but he cautioned people against refusing to believe the allegations. Instead, he emphasized the importance of the voices of survivors and said he met with many in the months leading up to the release of the list. The diocese also clarified that, for Catholics who were married by, received the Eucharist from, or participated in other sacraments with accused priests, the validity of the sacrament still holds.
The leaders of all seven dioceses in Louisiana have said they would release the names of clergy members who had been credibly accused of sex abuse. The Archdiocese of New Orleans, the state's largest diocese, went first, releasing a list of 57 names on Nov. 2.
The Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux was next, releasing a list of 14 names in January. The other four dioceses, based in Lafayette, Lake Charles, Shreveport and Alexandria, have yet to release the names of accused clergy.