The Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg on Tuesday posted a list of 28 priests on its website who it says have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct with a minor or vulnerable adult.
Bishop Terry LaValley made the decision to release the names days before he traveled to Baltimore to be at a General Assembly of U.S. Catholic bishops to decide what to do about the ongoing clerical sexual abuse scandal nationwide. He is there this week and has not been not available for interviews.
He announced his decision with a letter read at Masses in parishes across the North Country on Sunday. Diocesan staff posted the list on the website of its Safe Environment office Tuesday; staff were off Monday for Veterans Day.
The list says 12 of those priests are still living and 16 have died. Some still reside in the North County, according to diocesan Director of Communications Darcy Fargo.
Beyond names and a note of which priests are deceased, the list provides no information, such as where they served, what offenses they allegedly committed and what evidence stands against them.
Before LaValley was bishop, he was involved in the diocese’s investigation into sexual abuse by priests. In 2002, in the wake of a Massachusetts scandal later brought to the screen in the Oscar-winning 2015 movie “Spotlight,” U.S. bishops required every diocese to investigate and report on clergy sexual abuse allegations going back to 1950. In 2004, the Diocese of Ogdensburg reported that since 1950, 56 people, 37 of whom were minors at the time, had made sexual-abuse allegations against 35 of its clergymen. The diocese said at the time that allegations against 23 of those priests were deemed credible.
Up to now, the diocese has only named four of those priests, whom it removed from ministry between the 2002 investigation and 2004 announcement: Theodore Gillette, Robert Shurtleff, David Wisniewski and Clark White.
All four had served in the Tri-Lakes area, according to records compiled by Jeff Anderson & Associates, a Minnesota law firm that pursues clergy sex abuse cases nationally: Shurtleff served in Saranac Lake in 1975 and Tupper Lake from 1991 to 2000, Wisniewski in Saranac Lake from 1991 to 1996, White in Tupper Lake from 1980 to 1983 and Gillette in Saranac Lake from 1982 to 1983.
In total, the diocese has removed eight priests from ministry under the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Young People, which specifies such action if a Diocesan Review Board and/or bishop finds reasonable grounds to accusations of sexual misconduct with a minor or vulnerable adult.
On the list released Tuesday, the 12 priests who are still living are Fay Ager, Ronald Farchette, Bruce Favreau, James Larche, Roland Menard, Liam O’Doherty, Shurtleff, Thomas Squires, Michael Toth, White, Wisniewski and Paul Worczak.
The Rev. Douglas Decker, pastor of Tupper Lake’s St. Alphonsus and Holy Name of Jesus churches, said Squires was also in Tupper Lake around the mid-1970s.
The deceased are Joseph Conti, Joseph Degen, Robert Duford, John Fallon, Edward Franklin, Gillette, John Hunt, Edwin Kennedy, John Kennedy, Emile Lalonde, Roger Martin, Gerald McGrath, Albert Plante, Gerald Sharland, George Tobin and John Wiley.
LaValley and diocesan officials had previously said they would not release the names, largely to protect the privacy of victims.
Fargo said that while some victims did not want their abusers named, others have been seeking that for a while.
“Because of these things that have been in the news and that have been in our consciousness lately, the faithful are calling for this,” Fargo said.
“It is of course a blow to the faithful,” Decker said. “These people are very forgiving, you know? This is just a part of the humanity that we all share in.”
A Pennsylvania grand jury reported this summer that there had been “credible allegations” against more than 300 priests across that state and that the church’s own records showed about 1,000 child victims. Also this summer saw the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who served as Archbishop of Washington, D.C., from 2001 to 2006. McCarrick has been accused of sexually abusing minors and adult seminarians over the course of decades.
Decker said psychological journals report that around 2 percent of the population has the psychiatric disorder pedophilia, and that clergy is no less susceptible to it. He said there is a diocesan social worker whom clergy members can go to if they know of a case of abuse, to help them report it.
When an allegation is made, Fargo said a preliminary investigation is performed and given to the Diocesan Review Board, made up of current and former law enforcement, judges, psychologists, social workers, educators and clergy. The board makes a recommendation to the bishop, and if the allegation is credible, the bishop removes the offending priest from the ministry.
Fargo said the diocese has made improvements. The Charter for the Protection of Young People, originally established in 2002, calls for zero tolerance for guilty clergy with removal from ministry, full cooperation with law enforcement, comprehensive child safety education, safe environment training and background checks for all who work with children and youth in the Church, and ongoing audits to assure compliance with our diocesan safe environment policies.
Previously, guilty priests were sent to rehabilitation centers and returned to service. Fargo said 11 of the 28 priests on the list were repeat abusers.
“Historically, and obviously now we know that this is not a best practice, they would be sent for counseling based on the best medical practices of the time,” Fargo said. “We feel it wasn’t done in a malicious cover-up fashion. We were following the best practices of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s in the times when these cases occurred. Obviously now we know those to be flawed science, and people were hurt as the result of it.”
Fargo said there has been no credible allegation of abuse having occurred in more than 20 years.
“We pray that is a sign that we are on the right path,” she said.
In March, the diocese launched the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, which as of Oct. 4 has compensated approximately 37 victims, some with claims dating to the 1940s, totaling $5,495,000.
The diocese reports that it is financing the IRCP through a line of credit and a long-term loan. Funds to repay the loans for the claims of the IRCP will come from accumulated net investment returns in the Diocese Loan Account and net accumulations due to good claims performance in the diocesan self-insurance program.
The diocese said it will not and has not used money donated to parishes, schools, charitable organizations, the “It’s our Church, It’s our Future” capital campaign, or donations to any specific programs or ministries to fund the IRCP or compensate claimants.
New York state’s acting attorney general, Barbara Underwood, is investigating clerical sexual abuse in all eight of New York’s Roman Catholic dioceses.
— Adirondack Daily Enterprise Managing
Editor Peter Crowley contributed to this report.