Early on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, Newark’s archdiocese became the first of five dioceses in New Jersey to release a list of names of clergy members accused of sexually abusing minors. New Jersey’s four other dioceses – Trenton, Camden, Paterson and Metuchen – released similar lists shortly thereafter, bringing the total of accused Catholic clergy to 188 in New Jersey (one priest was included on two lists).
By diocese, the number of priests and deacons accused were:
- Archdiocese of Newark, 63
- Diocese of Camden, 57
- Diocese of Trenton, 30
- Diocese of Paterson, 28
- Diocese of Metuchen, 11
The lists of accused New Jersey Catholic clergy members are only the latest in what has been a slew of similar lists from states across the country. Lists have been steadily released since a Pennsylvania grand jury report this past August, which identified over 300 predator priests who had committed sexual crimes against minors. Since that report, over 2,000 disgraced clergy members have been identified.
With its release of nearly 200 names of accused priests, New Jersey becomes the first state to release all names at once. Around the country, other state dioceses have been slowly releasing names without coordination, diocese by diocese.
Among the lists released by New Jersey dioceses is a name familiar to many: former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who served as the head of the Archdiocese of Newark before he was appointed to serve as archbishop of Washington, D.C. from 2000 to 2006. While McCarrick stepped down from public ministry in June 2018 after accusations of sexual misconduct with fellow priests, seminary students and minors, he is still awaiting a church trial.
NJ’s Lists of Priests Come After Mounting Pressure
Facing mounting pressure from critics to identify clergy accused of sexual abuse, the Newark archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, wrote in a letter to Catholics claiming that publishing the list of names is part of an overarching “effort to do what is right and just.” Since September 2018, New Jersey dioceses have been conducting extensive reviews of records dating back to 1940.
Tobin went on to say he hopes his diocese’s list “will help bring healing to those whose lives have been so deeply violated.” In a tweet, the Newark archdiocese wrote that with the publication of their list they hope to “restore trust in the leadership of the Catholic Church.”
Though releasing lists of accused priests is voluntary, New Jersey’s publication of priests and deacons accused of sexual abuse follows fast on the heels of state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s formation of a criminal task force designed to investigate whether or not the church tampered with, covered up or improperly handled allegations of sex abuse – a move that has stoked fear among those in positions of power in the Catholic Church.
Grewal said, “Despite the recent action by the dioceses, our investigation remains ongoing because no institution or individual is immune from accountability.” His statements emphasize the reality of the situation and highlight the fact that there still remains a long way to go for the public to regain any trust in the Catholic Church. Grewal continued:
“While this is a positive first step towards transparency and accountability, I hope this spirit of openness continues during the course of our ongoing investigation and in response to our requests for records and information.”
Too Little, Too Late
Dioceses in more than two dozen states have now released lists naming clergy accused of committing sexual misconduct. To critics, and especially to the survivors of abuse and their families, those efforts still fall short.
For New Jersey, the priests named in the church’s publications are all either deceased or have since been stripped of their standing as clergy. In addition, while many of the priests and deacons named in the reports have already been identified in previous publications, New Jersey’s lists do not include specifics about allegations, such as when and where abuse allegedly occurred.
Among other lapses in detail, the lists neglect to mention which parishes the accused priests practiced at, making it difficult for survivors of sexual abuse to search for their abuser(s). Little information has been shared as to whether alleged abusers were allowed to continue practicing at the parish where the abuse took place or if they were simply moved from one parish to another.
In addition to not naming abuse locations, the five lists also neglected to include other New Jersey clergy members accused of abuse, such as Jesuit priests, Benedictine monks and others who are allowed to serve in Catholic schools or parishes without official ordainment by a diocese.
The Church’s Commitment to… Self-Preservation
Still, it would seem that the church’s goal, first and foremost, is to save face. In an effort to stem clergy abuse lawsuits filed on behalf of those abused, the New Jersey dioceses have opened a new compensation fund, which will be used to pay alleged victims settlements in exchange for not pursuing legal action against the church. So far, the maximum payout has been $500,000.
While releasing the names of accused clergy is important to help right the wrongs committed by the Catholic Church, it’s only a small step forward for survivors, many of whom have been suffering in silence for decades. Promises from the church, including New Jersey’s Tobin, have been made that these lists are but one of the many changes that will take place in the church.
Tobin said, “The disclosure of this list of names is not an endpoint in our process. Rather, it is an expression of our commitment to a new level of transparency in the way we report and respond to allegations of abuse.”
Other critics of the way the Catholic Church has handled allegations of abuse, are not as enthusiastic. State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), who has been a long-time advocate for victims of sexual abuse, said, “I think this list is decades overdue. I’m appreciative that they’ve released these names, particularly for those who may have been their victims. Time will tell whether this list is complete.”