Misjudgment in Boston

Recently archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley published on his archdiocesan website a list of the names of priests accused of the sexual abuse of children. Accompanying the list was a letter that carefully explains the rationale for his decision.

Cardinal O’Malley indicates that he is deeply concerned about the tragedy of sexual abuse and hopes to ensure that it is “never repeated in the Church.” He further states that his motivation in publicizing the priests’ names is rooted in a concern for “transparency and healing” and for the “restoration of trust.” At the same time, he acknowledges that there are interests “related to the due process rights and reputations of those accused clergy whose cases have not been fully adjudicated.”

Throughout his letter, the cardinal adduces legitimate concerns that cannot be gainsaid. The sexual abuse of children by priests is a horrendous sin and crime. The episcopal neglect that often attended such abuse is similarly condemnable. And it is precisely these past sins and crimes which impel the cardinal’s actions.

The list published by the archdiocese includes the names of “all clergy of the Archdiocese who have been publicly accused of sexually abusing a child [even] where canonical proceedings remain to be completed.” O’Malley explains that in listing the names of accused priests, he is not relying on the standard of credibility since the meaning of that term is variable. Also included are the names of deceased priests who have already been publicly accused. In a separate list, “the names of accused clergy where the accusations have been found not substantiated . . . if the names of those priests are already in the public domain.”

In publishing these names on the Boston website, O’Malley is hoping for transparency and the removal of every shadow of deception. In a diocese which had previously stood as a model of opacity, such intentions are admirable. Nonetheless, while eschewing deception is a worthy goal, significant problems attend the publication of the recent list. [more]


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