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Pennsylvania Diocese Reveals 71 Members Accused Of Child Sexual Abuse, Attorney General Says More To Come
The local Attorney General’s office said it will publish an “honest and comprehensive” account of sexual abuse by at least 300 priests in the state's six dioceses.
The Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, Penn., released the names of 71 members including priests, deacons and seminaries accused of child sexual abuse on Wednesday — but the local Attorney General says it will release a more “honest and comprehensive list” than that account, which they say was released under “intense public pressure.”
The investigation is looking at incidents dating back as far as the 1940’s, Joseph Aponic, Director of Communications at the Diocese of Harrisburg, told Oxygen.com.
More than half of those named on the list appear to be deceased.
The allegations vary in nature, from “inappropriate communications with children” to “inappropriate behavior,” such as kissing, according to the list.
Bishop Ronald W. Gainer, who announced the agenda for releasing the list at a Wednsday morning press conference, reflected on the “very sad moments in our history,” and apologized to the survivors.
The bishop clarified that the list contains names of clergy members who have been accused, but not necessarily found guilty.
“We did not make assessments of credibility or guilt in creating this list,” he said.
He also announced a new set of guidelines to address child sexual abuse in the Diocese.
“The Diocese of Harrisburg will respond promptly and decisively to all accusations of suspected sexual abuse of a minor by any person connected with the Church,” the agenda of the new policies of the Youth Protection Program read.
While there has been a youth protection program for more than 15 years, the program announced on Wednesday includes new policies, Mike Barley, a spokesman for the Harrisburg Diocese, told Oxygen.com.
“The biggest change is that any accusation is immediately turned over to law enforcement,” he said. “While they were previously doing that in practice, it wasn’t put in the guidelines.”
The Diocese is also ensuring compliance with multiple background checks, he added.
“We have a system where you’ll get a name tag only after you comply with all the training programs and are verified,” he said. “And that’s for anyone who works with the diocese — clergy, staff or volunteers.”
Aponic said in a statement to Oxygen.com that the Diocese wanted to release the list of names in 2016, but honored a request from Josh Shapiro, State of Pennsylvania Attorney General, not to do so.
“We were not allowed to release the information because the Attorney General’s office felt it might interfere with investigation,” he said to Oxygen.com.
However, a statement from the Attorney General’s office criticizes the Diocese for its failure in the past to be transparent about the issue, calling the intentions behind their current openness into question.
“Their proclamations today only come after intense public pressure and in the face of the imminent release of the Grand Jury report exposing decades of child abuse and cover up,” said Joe Grace, spokesperson for Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
The statement also said the Attorney General’s office will publish an “honest and comprehensive” account of sexual abuse by at least 300 priests with the six dioceses of Pennsylvania, and that the “true test” of the diocese will be reflected in its future steps.
Bishop Gainer in his press conference emphasized the importance of survivors to come forward with their story: “We continue in our sincere request that survivors come forward so that their situations can be addressed.”
[Photo: Getty Images]