Comprehensive List Dates Back 166 Years
The Diocese of Brooklyn released the names of diocesan clergy members credibly accused of sexual abuse against a minor on Friday afternoon, Feb. 15.
In all, there are 108 names listed in two categories: 67 clergy who have been credibly accused, and 41 clergy who died or resigned prior to a finding of credibility. The accused represent less than five percent of diocesan clergy. About two-thirds of the accused, or 60 percent, are deceased.
“We know this list will generate many emotions for victims who have suffered terribly. For their suffering, I am truly sorry,” Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said in a video statement accompanying the diocesan press release and special page on the diocesan website.
“I have met with many victims who have told me that more than anything, they want an acknowledgment of what was done to them. This list gives that recognition and I hope it will add another layer of healing for them on their journey toward wholeness,” he said.
One auxiliary bishop, two deacons and 105 priests are included in the listing, which spans the 166-year history of the diocese. Details include each clergy member’s name, date of ordination, ministerial assignments, current status and if deceased, date of death.
Other Roman Catholic dioceses across the country have been taking similar steps in releasing the names of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse against a minor. Earlier this week, five dioceses in New Jersey jointly released 188 names.
Bishop DiMarzio committed to releasing the names of the credibly accused at regional meetings held with the lay faithful late last year. In those meetings, the diocese outlined its zero tolerance policy on sexual abuse of a minor, in which any clergy member credibly accused is permanently removed from ministry.
To assist the survivors, the diocesan Office of Victim Assistance provides counseling, referrals, support groups and an annual Mass with Bishop DiMarzio.
“I want to let people know, everything will be ok, so we need to continue to get the word out that there is help,” said Anthony Hughes, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a priest, who sits on the diocesan Survivors Advisory Committee.
The diocesan Office of Victim Assistance, he says, is “always there for you when times are really tough. They’ve never turned their back on me in the last few years. They’ve been right there no matter what time of the day.”
Jasmine Salazar, diocesan vice chancellor and victim assistance coordinator, personally reaches out to all of the victims.
“I begin with an apology at some point during that conversation for what they have had to endure. I also listen to whatever their needs might be,” she said. “I inform them about the services we provide through the Office of Victim Assistance ministry, and basically I leave the door open from there.”
Graphs accompanying the list of names show that the majority of reported cases in Brooklyn and Queens involved priests ordained between 1930 and 1979, and incidents of abuse peaked in the 1960s and 1970s.
But the majority of reports were only made after the U.S. bishops established the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002. Since then, there have only been two credible cases of priests in active ministry.
Another upsurge in allegations came in 2017 when the diocese opened its Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), administered impartially by Kenneth Feinberg and Associates, as a means of healing and to help bring closure to survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
The program is coming to a close, but Bishop DiMarzio said the diocese is committed to continuing to assist victims of abuse and will conduct “a private compensation program for those who wish to participate.”
In 2004, Bishop DiMarzio set up an independent reporting hotline 888-634-4499 to give victims a way to come forward confidentially. Any reports of allegations are immediately shared with the district attorneys in Brooklyn and Queens.
Included in the newly released list are all diocesan clergy for whom allegations were reported to the diocese or the IRCP, unless allegations were unsubstantiated or investigations are still pending.
“This is the first time we are publishing a complete list of priests who had allegations against them that were found credible,” Msgr. Anthony Hernandez, chancellor of the Diocese of Brooklyn told The Tablet as the names were released.
“We need to act consistently and vigorously to protect the most vulnerable in our society, and especially in our church. The emphasis and the commitment of the diocese on this matter is total and we hold this to be one of our greatest responsibilities,” he said.
‘For The Benefit of the Faithful’
“It is for the benefit of the faithful. It is for the well being of the church,” Msgr. Hernandez added. “It is difficult to do, but necessary if we are going to have a vibrant and healthy future.”
Two priests against whom allegations have been made that were listed separately were Father Edward Offenheiser, now deceased, and Msgr. Otto Garcia, pastor of St. Joan of Arc parish, Jackson Heights. Allegations against both priests were found to be unsubstantiated. The claimant in the case of Father Offenheiser was allowed to participate in the IRCP, while the claim against Msgr. Garcia was denied.
According to a disclaimer released with the names, the list is based upon reports and allegations by victims themselves or their families. The disclaimer states that, “Based upon the evidence available to the Diocese, the allegations against the persons set forth … were deemed to be credible unless otherwise noted. By ‘credible’ the Diocesan officials believe that the allegations may be true.”
Further, the disclaimer notes that the listing of a name does not disclose or imply that clergy accused are guilty of a crime or liable for civil claims. Allegations are “just charges” until or unless they are legally proven.
The release of names comes a day after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act into law. This law extends the time allowed to victims of sexual abuse as children to file civil lawsuits against their abusers.
Previously, child sexual abuse offenses could not be prosecuted after five years from their occurrence and civil lawsuits had to be brought within three years from the victim’s 18th birthday.
The Child Victims Act opens a one-year window for survivors to file lawsuits against both public and private institutions, as well as individuals, in cases where the statute of limitations has lapsed. It also allows child sexual abuse survivors to start a civil lawsuit anytime before their 55th birthday.
Catholic dioceses in New York initially opposed the bill, arguing that it singled out the Catholic Church. After it was amended to include public institutions, the bishops of the state then supported it, including Bishop DiMarzio.
“It is my hope that the publishing of this list will provide some assistance to those who are continuing the difficult process of healing, as well as encourage other victims to come forward,” Bishop DiMarzio said in an open letter as the names were released.