By Inés San Martín and Christopher White
Fulfilling a vow to release the names of all U.S.-based Jesuits credibly accused of abuse, the Northeast Province of the Jesuits released a list Jan.15, becoming the final province of the Society of Jesus to do so.
In all, 50 names from the province were released, only 14 of whom are still alive.
The Northeast Province was formed in 2014 and includes the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and northern New Jersey.
In December, the Midwest province of the Jesuits released the names of 65 accused priests with “established allegations” against them dating back to 1955. The Maryland province, which stretches from southern New Jersey to Atlanta, also released the names of 14 credibly accused priests in December, as did the order’s West, Central, and Southern provinces.
Today, there are more than 16,000 Jesuits around the globe, famously including Pope Francis. Religious order priests constitute one-third of all priests in the U.S. and the Jesuits are the largest group, with more than 2,600 priests, brothers, and scholastics.
Throughout the United States, various dioceses and religious orders continue to disclose the list of priests and religious who’ve been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors – a process spurred by the August release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that chronicled seven decades of clerical abuse within the state’s six Catholic dioceses.
Tuesday’s list included the name of a famed Jesuit scholar who’s been in Rome for decades, Father Keith Pecklers, who faced an allegation in 2008 found to be credible. He was restricted from ministry, meaning he was to have no access to children, but he still worked in the formation of seminarians.
In 2010, it became public that two years earlier the diocese of Jersey City had paid a settlement to a man who alleged he’d been sexually abused by Pecklers and a deacon when he was a teenager attending the local church of St. Paul.
Pecklers was 17 himself when the abuse reportedly took place, and in 2010 about the allegations, he said: “I was a student – I was a minor myself – so it would be impossible to be accused of that type of thing. I was 17 years old, so that’s the end of the story.”
Despite the settlement, Pecklers remained a prominent scholar, contributed or edited several books, and who’s a frequent commentator on Vatican affairs for American media outlets – including the sex abuse scandals.
Most of the names revealed on Tuesday were already known, and some were even featured in the Academy-award winning movie Spotlight, based on the investigation into clerical sexual abuse conducted by the Boston Globe.
The list also includes names of individuals who served in a number of prominent Jesuit institutions, including Boston College High School, Regis High School, Fordham University, Loyala University, and America magazine.
Despite the cascade of recent lists of accused priests, many have long argued that releasing the list of names of priests who’ve been credibly accused of sexual abuse can be hurtful and even unfair to priest receiving posthumous judgment. Within the past year, many Catholic dioceses, institutions, and orders have viewed it as preferable to release the list of names voluntarily rather than through state or federal investigations.
The list of names includes every Jesuit from the province who’s been credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor since 1950. It’s important to note that “credibly accused” and even a settlement doesn’t necessarily mean they were guilty.
Some of those named are living, deceased, or former members with credible allegations. Some have been removed from the priesthood, others restricted in their ministry, others still banned from it completely, and a handful has been sent to prison.
According to a statement released with the list, an allegation is deemed “credible” if there is a preponderance of evidence that the allegation is more likely true than not after investigation.
“Credibility can also be established by conviction in a court or by the admission of the truth of the allegation by the Jesuit,” the statement says. “Many Jesuits on this list have not been found guilty of a crime or liable for any civil claim. Many accusations were made decades after the abuse allegedly took place, and often after the accused Jesuit had died.”
“Jesuits with allegations currently under investigation are not included on this list,” the statement added.
In a homily on Sunday, Father James Martin – arguably the United States’ most prominent Jesuit priest – said: “Releasing the names is the right and moral thing to do for dioceses and religious orders-indeed, for the church as a whole. And I am glad that the US Jesuits have done this.”
“It is an essential part of the process of confession and reconciliation that needs to happen in our church. If we think of this in terms of confession, before you can be forgiven, you need to confess your sins fully,” he said. “And it needs to be done voluntarily, not because you’ve been forced to. You don’t confess your sins only because you’re forced to.”
In August of last year, the Jesuit Superior General, Venezuelan Father Arturo Sosa, released a letter calling on all Jesuits to share in the suffering of abuse victims and to help foster a culture of protection.
“We ask the Lord to accompany us in a real process of personal and institutional conversion,” he wrote at the time. “We ask that he help us not to flag in our efforts to promote a new culture of life in which all human beings find protection, justice, and dignity.”