Three Ohio dioceses to release abusive priest list

'The Diocese of Columbus understands this is an important step to restore the confidence of our faithful in their church and its clergy,' a diocese spokesman said.

In this March 28, 2007, file photo, Bishop George Murry celebrates Mass at St. Columba Cathedral in Youngstown, Ohio. The Roman Catholic diocese was the first in Ohio to announce that it would release a list of priests who have been removed from parishes because of sexual abuse and misconduct allegations. Now The Associated Press has learned that a second Ohio diocese, Steubenville, plans to release a list. (Michael Semple//Tribune Chronicle via AP)

CLEVELAND (AP) — Three of Ohio’s six Roman Catholic dioceses now say they will release new lists of priests who have been removed from parishes because of sexual abuse and misconduct allegations, The Associated Press has learned.

The Catholic Diocese of Columbus said Wednesday (Sept. 26) it would release a list in the next few months that will include the names of clergy who have been credibly accused of abuse, whether they are living or dead. The announcement comes a day after the Steubenville Diocese said it will make public the names of abusive priests by the end of October and several weeks after the Youngstown Diocese made a similar announcement.

This all comes in the wake of a lengthy Pennsylvania grand jury report that listed the names of more than 300 priests and outlined the details of sexual abuse allegations in that state.

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“The Diocese of Columbus understands this is an important step to restore the confidence of our faithful in their church and its clergy,” a diocese spokesman said.

Other dioceses in Ohio have said they have previously released the names of priests who have been removed from ministry. But it’s unclear how far back those lists reach, and some don’t include the names of priests who have died.

Steubenville diocesan officials and attorneys will review files dating back to its formation in 1944, spokesman Dino Orsatti said. He estimated that a list would include 12 to 20 names. The diocese is the smallest in Ohio, with 34,000 members.

Orsatti said Tuesday that Bishop Jeffrey Monforton wants the list released in the interest of transparency and accountability.

“He would welcome any investigation like the one in Pennsylvania,” Orsatti said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a zero-tolerance policy called the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002 in the midst of a national scandal over the church’s failure to address — and in some cases, the cover-up of — sexual abuse and misconduct by priests. The policy requires dioceses to alert authorities when they learn of abuse allegations, conduct their own investigations and remove accused priests from their duties during such reviews.

The Youngstown Diocese announced in early September that it would release a comprehensive list in the coming weeks.

Youngstown broke off from the much larger Cleveland Diocese in 1943. Monsignor John Zuraw said that while names of priests have been made public over the years, a complete list has never been released. Youngstown Bishop George Murry believes there is a need for transparency within the church and wants to “assure the people of God that no one’s in harm’s way,” Zuraw said.

He said the diocese plans to examine the files of every priest who has served in Youngstown. It’s the diocese’s hope that revealing the names of priests could trigger someone’s memories of being abused and prompt the person to seek help, he said.

“This is what the church needs to do at this time,” Zuraw said. “To help people who were victimized and let them put their lives back together.”

A spokesman for the Diocese of Cleveland — Ohio’s largest, with nearly 700,000 members — said it provided Cuyahoga County prosecutors all relevant files during a monthslong grand jury investigation similar to Pennsylvania’s in 2002. The diocese that year posted a list of 22 priests who had been accused of child sex abuse. Diocesan spokesman Jim Armstrong said Tuesday that some of the allegations date back decades. Seven additional names of accused priests have been added to the website since then.

Unlike Pennsylvania, prosecutors in Cleveland never produced a report about the grand jury’s findings.

In a 2003 court decision denying a Cleveland television station’s request to obtain records presented to the grand jury, Cuyahoga County Judge Brian Corrigan wrote that prosecutors had identified more than 1,000 possible victims of sexual abuse and 496 possible offenders, including 143 priests. Sixty-four of the priests were living in the Cleveland area at the time.

Two other dioceses in Ohio say they already make it a practice to release the names of priests who have been removed.

The Diocese of Toledo lists the names of 20 priests and deacons on its website who are among the 46 accused of sexually abusing children since 1950. Some names, though, were omitted because the priests are dead and can’t defend themselves, the diocese said.

The Cincinnati Archdiocese publishes a list of priests who have been removed due to child sexual abuse. The names include 14 priests who since 2005 have been either permanently removed from performing as a priest or not allowed to publicly present themselves as priests.

It also has published annual reports since 2004 that detail how many new allegations have been received and whether the priests had been accused previously. The reports published on the diocese’s website do not identify the priests but say the accusations were handed over to prosecutors.

(Seewer reported from Toledo.)

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