June 30, 2021

Righting Past Wrongs: Some Organizations Confront History of Sexual Abuse Head-on

One of the more disturbing aspects of child sexual abuse is the lengths some groups will go to to shield themselves from responsibility if someone in their ranks is found to be a predator.

We’ve all read horror stories of scout leaders who take advantage of the children in their care, or priests who abuse altar boys, but there are far more cases of victims being paid off to keep silent, or predators being spirited away to a new location only to commit more atrocities.

Fortunately, some organizations are taking ownership of their past efforts to bury the truth.

The Catholic Diocese of Little Rock is one such group. The diocese set up a website disclosing any priests who served in Arkansas — including those from other religious orders — who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children. It lists their names, status within the church, the number of allegations they faced and where they served.

Encouraging Transparency

The website, which was established in 2018 and expanded a year later, lists any priest accused of sexual misconduct that ever served in Arkansas; even if he wasn’t accused in that state. The goal, according to the website, is to “encourage persons sexually abused by clergy or by anyone working on behalf of the church to come forward.” Toward that end, it includes a prominent “Report Abuse” button and encourages users to contact law enforcement with any suspected cases of child abuse.

According to the diocese, the website’s creation was ordered by Bishop Anthony in the wake of a grand jury report’s public disclosure in another diocese. Other groups also track the accused predators listed on the website, including Bishop Accountability and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. The latter of these groups revealed several accused priests originally omitted from the church’s list of accused predators.

Other organizations have been less willing to admit prior culpability.

The Boy Scouts of America long resisted disclosure of its infamous “perversion files”; that is, records of more than 7,800 scout leaders who preyed on an astonishing 12,000 boys, according to one news report. These records date back to the 1940s. While court cases had forced the organization to disclose some of their perversion files in 2012, seven years later the group was still fighting full release of the documents.

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Josh Gillispie