It said it would detail sex abuse in Phoenix
The Republic | azcentral.com
17 August 2012 10:01 PM
by Michael Clancy
The Diocese of Phoenix has missed its self-imposed deadline to publish details of how many priests have been accused of sexual misconduct and the associated costs of the scandal.
The diocese, which oversees parishes in Maricopa, Coconino, Yavapai and La Paz counties, promised to publish a comprehensive list of abusive clergy and an accounting of costs associated with the scandal by June 14. That hasn’t happened, and diocese officials are refusing to talk about it.
The report as promised would detail the full scope of the church abuse scandal in Phoenix, which lost more than two dozen priests to accusations and arrests. The scandal, which erupted in 2002 with the release of diocesan files in Boston, is believed to have cost the church nationwide an estimated $3.3 billion in court settlements and verdicts to date.
The diocese more than a year ago said the report would be ready in time for the 10th anniversary of the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, known as the Dallas Charter. The charter was the bishops’ response to the burgeoning scandal, which caught fire earlier that year.
Two months after the diocese deadline, despite a bishop’s suggestion that the diocesan vicar general discuss the details of the report with the media, neither the official nor the diocese communications director will talk about it.
Diocese officials say the full report will be in the fall edition of the diocese newspaper, the Catholic Sun, distributed exclusively to church members.
“We are working on it,” said diocese communications director Rob DeFrancesco. “We do not have anything else to add at this time.”
Questions about the report came up when Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Nevares contacted The Republic urging the paper to get in touch with the diocese’s vicar general, the Rev. Fred Adamson. The vicar general is the bishops’ top-ranking assistant, apparently in charge of assembling the report.
The report potentially could be the first comprehensive accounting of the abuse scandal by any diocese in the country. Several other dioceses, including Tucson, maintain lists of accused or convicted priests.
Adamson would not discuss the report, and Nevares says, “Father Fred does not want to release bits and pieces.”
The diocese previously said the report would include a full list of credibly accused clergy in the diocese. In 2004, as part of a report to the national bishops’ organization, the diocese listed 18 men, but that list has grown to more than 30, depending on how the counting is done.
The Arizona Republic maintains an updated list, and the website bishopaccountability.org, created by laypeople after the scandal began to keep as many public documents available as they can find, also attempts to list abusive priests.
“Credibly accused” is a term dioceses use to note that a situation of abuse could have happened in the way described by a victim. In many cases, the the “credibly accused” clergy have never been charged by authorities, sued by victims or suspended by diocese leaders.
The count is complicated by several factors:
The diocese has existed for 42 years, and early on, most priests previously had been assigned to the Diocese of Tucson. On its list of accused priests, Tucson lists 10 who served primarily in Phoenix.
The diocese has hosted numerous religious orders, such as Jesuits and Franciscans, to serve as parish priests. More recently, those priests have come from overseas. Such priests may or may not be listed in a diocesan account; their orders are responsible for them, not the diocese.
Several priests from elsewhere may have committed abuses while visiting Arizona; likewise, several Arizona priests were accused of criminal activity elsewhere. Of the seven clergymen the diocese lists as part of community notifications since June 2007, only three spent their careers here. The others either worked here a short time or were regular visitors to the area.
The diocese in 2004 said it had spent approximately $2.7 million in settlements as part of the abuse crisis, but it was never known whether that figure included a full accounting of costs. Such an accounting would include not just legal settlements but also legal, counseling and educational costs, said Terry McKiernan of bishopaccountability.org.
McKiernan notes that nationwide, dioceses have spent about $3.3 billion on abuse-case settlements. Official statements from church officials are so outdated, he says, they are virtually useless.
That is because since 2004, large settlements were reached in several dioceses, including Los Angeles; several bankruptcy filings were completed, including in Tucson; and numerous abuse cases continue to be filed, including one in Kansas City, where the bishop is facing jail time for failure to report criminal sexual activity by a priest, and in Philadelphia, where a diocese official recently was sentenced to prison for his role in moving pedophiles from parish to parish.
The accuracy of the Phoenix Diocese report in 2004 was questioned by Paul Pfaffenberger of Gilbert, who at the time was the local leader of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
“The diocese has had a long history of reporting only those cases that have been public through litigation, criminal charges or the media,” he said at the time.
Pfaffenberger since has served as victim advocate for the diocese. He steps down at the end of the month after two years in the position.
The list of accused priests and a financial accounting are only part of the picture nationally. A few dioceses have ignored the charter altogether, including Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s home diocese of Lincoln, Neb. Others, like Kansas City and Philadelphia, appeared to be following church rules about suspending suspected pedophiles and reporting them to authorities, only to have faced legal action for failing to do so.
In Gallup, N.M., reports indicate Bishop James Wall, formerly of Phoenix, has failed to talk to or even convene the charter-dictated lay-review board, despite promises of transparency. The Gallup Independent, in an editorial, accused Wall of following “a trail of broken promises” — including failures to report accused priests to authorities, to publish a comprehensive list of Gallup Diocese abuse cases, and to alert parishes about possible abusers.
Tucson, on the other hand, is one of few dioceses nationally that posts a list of abusive clergy on its website, although it does not provide a full accounting of costs.