On the cusp of the Fourth of July, the attention of most Rhode Islanders is likely focused on planning for vacations, beach days, cookouts or other outdoor adventures.
Anyone tuned into the news on Monday, however, became aware of the latest development in a decidedly less celebratory storyline for our state.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence released a list of priests and clergy members found to have been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing children since 1950. The diocese is the latest to release such a list, part of a push for disclosure in communities across the nation.
The list, which has been posted on the diocese’s website, was compiled through the work of retired Rhode Island State Police Major Kevin O’Brien, director of the diocese’s Office of Compliance. According to the diocese, O’Brien “reviewed all diocesan files compiled over seventy years, and employed his training and expertise as a twenty-three year State Police detective to make assessments and judgments regarding the available and developed evidence within the files.”
O’Brien is said to have “made additional inquiries to corroborate and bolster certain allegations” in some cases. He “ultimately exercised his own independent, expert judgment in determining whether to place particular clergy on the list.”
Many of the names on the list are familiar to Rhode Islanders due to past criminal cases or public allegations. Of the 50 men listed, 31 have passed away. The other 19 are alive and have been removed from the ministry.
In a video statement accompanying the release of the list, Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin called the disclosure a “difficult but necessary moment in the life of our diocesan church.”
He spoke of the “widespread expectation in our own community” that such a list would be made public and the need to dispel the impression that the diocese has “something to hide.” He also said the moment serves as an opportunity for the church to “renew our commitment to provide safe environments for children and youth.”
For survivors of childhood sexual abuse on the part of priests and clergy members, as well as their loved ones, Monday’s release represents a vital – but still painful – step in the healing process. It comes on the heels of a change in state law extending the statute of limitations for childhood sex abuse claims from seven years to 35 years, another overdue development.
We are glad to see the diocese make good on its promise and release this list. Protecting and nurturing children must be our society’s paramount objective, and no individual or institution can be allowed to escape accountability.