A massive abuser database

A massive abuser database

A Dallas lawyer is going to be adding information on 2,600 alleged abusive priests to a victims’ group to add to their online database. Sylvia Demarest says the information was assembled from public sources and includes an accused priest’s name and the time, place, and nature of the alleged abuse. The information will eventually be added to the database already online at Bishop-Accountability.org

On the one hand, I think the more information available the better. For one thing, it prevents the hiding of perverts in plain sight. Plus it helps us to understand the nature and extent of the abuse as well as the actions of those who protected them over the years.

However, I wonder about the “quality” of the database. Anyone can claim anything, so under what circumstances will an accusation be included? Will there only be credible allegations? I’m afraid of the potential that priests who had one false accusation lodged against them decades ago could be included.

That said, I think the database is a valuable tool. I just want to learn more about it and be assured that it is accurate and has been vetted by reliable sources.

  • An awful lot of the database seems to have been abandoned mid-2003.  This is a monumental undertaking to be undertaken as a part-time or volunteer activity.

    I hope BishopAccountability.org, Inc. has a good liability insurance, defamation is actionable.

  • An update on this project from BishopAccountability.org – We will post only the names of priests against whom allegations have already been publicly made in the media or in court filings.  Yesterday we received the database; the 59 archive boxes of backup materials arrived on Monday.  We agree with Dom that quality is crucial, and our first impression is that Ms. Demarest and her colleague, Trish McLelland, have done a very careful job.  The database appears to include hundreds of priests who have not yet been listed on the SurvivorsFirst.org list or other available lists.  We expect to post the database shortly.

  • Terry, the problem is that once the accusation has been made and you report it, you are ethically bound to report anything the exculpates or mitigates the accused that likewise enters the public record.

    Looking at the website now I have no way of knowing of any accused person for whom the accusations were withdrawn or disproven.  It’s not enough to report an accusation in 2002 if the accusation was disproven in 2004.

    As the number of cases that you track and sources that you use increase, the effort to track updated dispositions looks massive.

  • Patrick, your points are well taken.  We are committed to posting all publicly reported aspects of an allegation.  We will pull some of this material to the site, and other reports will be pushed to us by our readers, which will help with the scale problem you mention.  In our view, the ethics of the situation do not bind us to be complete (which the bishops have made impossible anyway), but to post every public report about an allegation that we find or receive, when that report adds new information.  We will invite informants, and we will not select or exclude.

    By gathering relevant reports on an allegation from various sources, our database will help not only victims but also priests who are incorrectly accused.  Our database will connect an allegation with an exoneration, and it will also connect an apparent exoneration with a later report that a priest has reoffended.  Moreover, if a priest who worked in ten states is credibly accused in Iowa, his parishioners in other states deserve to know about the accusation.  If he is cleared in Iowa, those parishioners should know too.  Our work on assignment records will eventually make this possible.

    The database will be a partial index of publicly available reports, nothing more.  It will make no allegations.  When its record on a priest is incomplete, it will at least provide the start of a thread that can be followed.  And we will post that thread as it develops.

    Of course, the issues you raise are a subset of a larger ethical mess. The material we post will include court documents and media reports about hundreds of priests convicted on abuse and porn charges. But it will contain many more reports of allegations and denials, and diocesan documents regarding settlements with “no admission of guilt” clauses.  Charges are rarely withdrawn, and allegations are hard to prove or disprove.  We have the bishops to thank for the murkiness of this situation.  They removed most cases from the justice system by gaming the statutes of limitations, by concluding thousands of settlements with confidentiality agreements, and by isolating the victims from each other in order to limit the damage.  Fear of scandal trumped the truth, with terrible results for the victims, and two results for priests who are innocent.  Priests who were incorrectly accused lost their day in court, just as the victims did, and innocent priests in general work now within a fog of suspicion.

    Sorry for this long post, but one last comment.  At BishopAccountability.org we feel that transparency about this horrifying mess is a paramount ethical good, and our focus is managerial.  We are especially interested in the bishops’ role.  But everyone has contributed.  Many priests kept silent because they had secrets too, or because they feared punishment within the diocesan pecking orders.  Lay people were unwilling to report an offending priest whose Masses or politics they liked.  The Pope has allowed the wound to fester, and he keeps bishops in office who should have been gone long ago. The materials we are collecting shed light on these other aspects of the crisis too.

    Many thanks for your thoughtful post.