The Archdiocese of Seattle last week published what it calls a comprehensive list of priests and clergy known to have sexually abused children. The 76 men and one woman on the list held positions of authority in the Catholic church around Western Washington – including Pierce County – as far back as 1923. Their egregious breaches of sacred trust had been known for years.
The list easily could be filed under the label “what took you so long?” It could be cross-referenced under the heading “better late than never.”
It took several years for the archdiocese to release the list because of what a spokesman described Tuesday as a long, sustained process of “facing our failure.” The church has apologized and tried to help victims heal, rooted out the offenders, and installed safeguards to ensure that crimes so evil are never again perpetrated by individuals acting in persona Christi.
An Archdiocese Review Board has worked deliberately (translation: slowly) since 2003. Taking measured steps toward openness and transparency is part of the process, spokesman Greg Magnoni said. The list was released freely, not compelled by any legal threat, he said.
“This might seem like a large step to you,” Magnoni said, “but to us it seems like the right step at the right time.”
Any connection to the rising profile of the Oscar-nominated film “Spotlight” is purely coincidental, but it’s remarkable to consider how far the Catholic church has come since the film’s real-life events took place. In 2001, the Archdiocese of Boston tried to hide records from the Boston Globe that would ultimately prove an epidemic of priests abusing children under the tacit protection of church leaders.
To its credit, the Seattle archdiocese was among the first in the U.S. to recognize the pathology of clergy abuse, more than a decade before the cover-up portrayed in “Spotlight.” But for years the local church also engaged in the shameful, all-too-common game of moving sick priests around to different parishes. It has had to pay about $74 million in settlements for 392 legal claims.
The archdiocese deserves no medals, and its leaders know it. In his letter that accompanied last week’s release of the list, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain concluded: “I will continue to pray for all survivors of sexual abuse, and deeply regret that vulnerable individuals in the Church’s care have been harmed.”
Sartain said that he started familiarizing himself with the church’s sex-abuse response after he was appointed to the Seattle post in 2010, and he made it “one of my first priorities.”
Five years later, his list contains few if any bombshells. The names on it were previously disclosed through court records and media reports – including 18 clergy who served as priests, chaplains or deacons in Tacoma at some time in their careers.
How much time has passed since they abused children in their care? More than half of the 77 clergy on the list are now dead.
A more tragic number is impossible to know: the countless victims who were abused decades ago and went to their graves carrying a secret.
If Sartain’s list inspires just one more brave person to step forward and avoid that fate, it was worth the wait.
A way for survivors to come forward
The Archdiocese of Seattle encourages individuals to call the pastoral outreach coordinator at 800-446-7762.