The names of 71 accused clergy have been released by their bishop

On Thursday, Bishop Ronald Gainer of Harrisburg released a list of 71 clergy – some living, some dead – who were accused of sexual abuse. He also ordered that the names of former diocesan bishops be removed from buildings, halls, and rooms honouring them. Then, on Sunday, Crux reported that Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said he too would release a similar list.

This comes in the wake of a grand jury report from the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office. They spent months investigating sexual abuse in the dioceses of Harrisburg, Pittsburg, Allentown, Scranton, Erie and Greensburg.

Laypeople are relieved to see the Church taking tangible action to combat sexual abuse, even if it’s only “naming and shaming”, Indeed, according to the Dallas Charter, bishops are obligated to inform parishioners if their priest has been credibly accused of abusing minors. Yet it also clearly states that bishops are obligated to treat their priests as being innocent until they’re proven guilty. The Charter says the diocese must defend priests from false accusations and investigate claims of misconduct impartially.

There is a risk here. Once a priest has been publicly accused of sexual abuse (particularly by his bishop), the stain on his reputation is permanent – even if he’s proven to be innocent. This is especially troubling in regards to dead priests who have no opportunity to defend themselves at all.

The laity are (quite rightly) determined to identify abusers and the bishops who enable them. And no one wants to be seen defending priests so shortly after the McCarrick scandal broke. But there’s a danger that the prevailing clericalism that helped shield McCarrick will give way to anti-clericalism.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection