For centuries, Louisiana’s Catholic Church has attracted devout followers drawn to the faith because it answers their search for truth.
But truth has not always or even usually appeared to be the governing principle in the church’s handling of sexual abuse scandals among its leaders. Those abuse cases have been numerous — not only in Louisiana but within the church across the world. They’re a grave stain on a church that has done much good, and equally compromising have been the coverups, no doubt driven by a desire to preserve the church’s credibility.
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The church is now facing a reality that every large institution eventually does. Hiding misdeeds doesn’t protect a public reputation; it corrodes it. The Catholic Church, which has proclaimed since its inception that sin has consequences, is today confronted with what the brutalization of innocent lives has wrought.
That’s why a decision by church leaders in Louisiana to release the names of clergy “credibly accused” of sex abuse is welcome, though long overdue. On Friday, New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond released the names of dozens of clergy members implicated in abuse cases over several decades. Leaders of several other dioceses in Louisiana have promised to release their own lists. Aymond said the list has been given to the New Orleans district attorney and will be available to any other district attorney.
The list released Friday includes 57 clergy who served in about 125 schools, parishes and other church-operated facilities within the Archdiocese of New Orleans — which represents about a fourth of all such facilities that the archdiocese oversaw in the 1970s. It includes nearly three dozen clergy whose abuses do not appear to have been previously exposed.
The process for releasing names relies on church-imposed standards of what constitutes a “credible” accusation. The archdiocese's list includes clergy who were accused and removed from ministry. The church’s history has included examples of abusers who weren't removed from ministry, just transferred to another location. Sadly, abuse within the church has also been perpetrated by workers who were not clergy. One case in point involved Jesuit High in New Orleans, where officials agreed in 2012 to a $450,000 settlement with Ricky Windmann, who grew up near the school and said a maintenance man named Peter Modica sexually abused him on campus multiple times.
Different dioceses around the country have employed varying standards in disclosing the time and place where the alleged incidents of abuse occurred. The Vatican could advance reform by setting uniform reporting standards for such incidents across the church.
Abuse victims deserve nothing less. They should be the top priority — not the stature of those church leaders who looked the other way while criminal acts occurred on their watch. Aymond said he received many requests to release the names and many other requests not to release them. He made the right call in releasing the list, noting biblical teaching that "the truth will set you free."
That spiritual admonition underscores a fundamental principle of civic life, too. Transparency about grave wrongdoing, however painful, is the best way to help victims, serve parishioners, and support the work of the many church clerics who have brought joy, rather than suffering, to the people they promised to serve.