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Other voices: Catholic Church moves in right direction

Monday’s release of a list of clergy credibly accused of child sexual abuse marked an important milestone for The Catholic Diocese of Charlotte and its members.

For the diocese, the list is an opportunity to take a fuller accountability for its troubled past. For victims and other faithful, the list is a long-overdue validation of pain that the church both hid and enabled decades ago.

The list comprises 14 clergy credibly accused of child sexual abuse in Charlotte and western North Carolina since the diocese was established in 1972. In addition, the diocese published information about credibly accused clergy prior to 1972, when the Diocese of Raleigh oversaw the Catholic Church across the state. The Charlotte diocese also identified clergy who served here without apparent incident but were on lists published by other dioceses and religious orders.

The release is an important step for the diocese, but it’s one that could be marred by new revelations of missteps by the church nationwide. An Associated Press analysis published late last week revealed that more than 900 Catholic clergy accused of child sexual abuse and other sexual misbehavior were left off of lists released across the United States. Those clergy included members of religious orders or priests arrested for sexual crimes.

The revelations were a setback for the church, and they threatened the trust and healing that dioceses had hoped would come from the release of their lists. In Charlotte, that effort began last year with an exhaustive examination of church records conducted with the help of an independent investigative firm, U.S. Investigative Security Services. Importantly, the Charlotte list includes clergy who were members of religious orders, and investigators did not leave off clergy arrested for child pornography or deceased clergy with only one allegation against them, as other dioceses did.

Rev. Patrick J. Winslow, the vicar general and chancellor of the diocese who oversaw the examination of clergy records, stressed most allegations the diocese is dealing with now involved incidents prior to 2002, when U.S. bishops adopted a charter of policies and protocols involving sex abuse allegations. Since then, he says, the diocese has had a “zero-tolerance approach” that includes swiftly reporting allegations to authorities and removing clergy from ministry. Clearly, things have changed for the better in the church and diocese, and that should bring comfort to the faithful.

Still, policies and protocols are only part of the path toward rebuilding trust.

Winslow and the Charlotte diocese should take immediate action to ensure that its hard work is not undermined. Among the questions that need re-checking or addressing: Were there any clergy not on the diocese list who were arrested or accused of sexual crimes regarding children? Diocese officials also should examine the Associated Press reporting to make sure that clergy who were left off other lists didn’t serve here, and it should quickly address any new questions regarding names that might have been missed.

— The Charlotte Observer



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