Diocese releases names of priests with abuse allegations

ALLOUEZ — The Diocese of Green Bay has released the names of 47 diocesan priests who have substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. The list of names will be posted on the diocesan website, www.gbdioc.org/clergydisclosurelist, at noon on Jan. 17 and published in the Jan. 25 issue of The Compass.

In a letter to pastors and parish leaders dated Jan. 16, Bishop David Ricken said the decision to publish the list of names was made following an outside review of diocesan priest and deacon files. The independent investigative firm, Defenbaugh & Associates, Inc., of Kaufman, Texas, spent several weeks at the diocesan Chancery reviewing the files in late 2018.

Fr. John Girotti, left, Tammy Basten and Bishop David Ricken listen to a reporter’s question during a press briefing in Bona Hall in Allouez announcing the of names of priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. The press briefing took place Jan. 17, prior to the list being posted on the diocesan website. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“The findings of this outside review were made to the Diocesan Independent Review Board (IRB) and the Chancellor just before Christmas,” said Bishop Ricken. “Following thoughtful consideration, they in turn recommended to me that I release the names of those diocesan clergy who have a substantiated allegation(s) of sexual abuse of a minor, in accordance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

The Charter is a set of procedures originally established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2002 for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.

According to a statement that accompanies the list of names, the earliest documented allegation of sexual abuse occurred by a priest who was ordained in 1906. The most recent substantiated allegation took place in 2016, and the priest was immediately removed from ministry. Thirty-two of the 47 priests on the list are deceased.

“Additionally, there are 16 priests and two deacons accused of the sexual abuse of a minor who, after investigation and review by the Independent Review Board, were either exonerated or the allegation against them deemed unsubstantiated,” according to the statement. These 18 men with unsubstantiated allegations are not on the list being made public.

The number of priests with substantiated allegations accounts for about 7 percent of the 630 diocesan priests ordained for the diocese since its establishment in 1868. According to Fr. John Girotti, vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the Curia, none of the priests listed in the report are currently serving in the diocese. “In most instances, the incidents that occurred happened years, sometimes decades ago,” said Fr. Girotti.

Bishop David Ricken held a press briefing Jan. 17 to discuss the release of names.

The list of names includes “incardinated” priests of the diocese, meaning priests who were ordained for service here or who requested a transfer into the diocese after ordination elsewhere.

An allegation of sexual abuse is deemed to be “substantiated” when there is a reasonable cause to suspect that the sexual abuse of a minor has occurred, according to the statement. “Any substantiated allegation of the sexual abuse of a minor which is subsequently proven in a civil or canonical forum leads to the priest’s permanent removal from public ministry and possible criminal prosecution,” said the statement. “Additional penalties in church law are imposed upon that priest up to and including dismissal from the priesthood.”

Not every priest who was found to have a credible allegation was found guilty or liable by civil authorities, according to the statement. However, in every case, “the diocese conducted an investigation based upon church law which often resulted in the priest being permanently removed from ministry.”

“Many of the substantiated allegations were made decades after the alleged abuse took place, making it difficult to conduct a complete civil or church investigation,” the diocese explained in the statement. “Also, because most of the substantiated allegations were made many years after the civil statute of limitations had passed, the civil authorities were unable to fully investigate the matter or bring charges. Some of these allegations were made after the accused priest had died and therefore the priest did not have the opportunity to respond to the accusation.”

According to a Jan. 4 Associated Press report, the names of more than 1,000 priests and other church employees accused of child sexual abuse have been reported by dioceses across the country. Nearly 50 dioceses and religious orders have publicly identified clergy members with credible or substantiated accusations, with more than 50 other dioceses planning to release their list of names in the next few months. Altogether, more than half of the nation’s 187 dioceses have or will be releasing names, according to the Associated Press.