— As Catholic dioceses across the state are getting hit with hundreds of new child sex abuse lawsuits, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone remains the only California bishop yet to release an internal list of priests “credibly accused” of sexually abusing children.
By Michael Bott, Candice Nguyen, Jeremy Carroll, Michael Horn, Alex Bozovic, Grace Galletti, Roselyn Romero
Northern California’s most powerful bishop steadfastly refuses to release an internal list of priests accused of sexually abusing children, even as hundreds of new lawsuits hitting Catholic dioceses across the state suggest new depths to the church’s sex abuse scandal.
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone remains the lone bishop in California declining to take the significant step towards transparency, and pressure is mounting for him to do so.
“When you don’t publish a list and tell people the truth proactively, it’s a lie,” said Dan McNevin, a clergy sex abuse survivor and local leader for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). “And this is a religious institution that talks about morality.”
From San Diego to Santa Rosa, California’s 11 other bishops have posted such lists online, most of them following a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report that found more than 300 priests across the state had sexually abused children and church leaders helped cover up their crimes.
Survivors, advocates, and attorneys have been pressuring Cordileone to release San Francisco’s list for years, but so far, he’s not budging.
“[We want] to call out and require the Archbishop of San Francisco, Archbishop Cordileone, to reveal the truth,” said prominent clergy abuse plaintiff’s attorney Jeff Anderson at a protest in front of the Archdiocese last year. “To reveal and disclose all the names of the offenders that have worked in the Archdiocese of San Francisco and have violated, raped, molested or abused children. Archbishop Cordileone, name your predators. It’s time.”
The Archbishop declined multiple interview requests to discuss the list, along with recent child abuse allegations against San Francisco priests. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese said the names of their accused priests are “already in the public domain,” but declined to answer follow-up questions about what exactly that means.
The calls for transparency come at a time when Catholic dioceses across the state are facing more than 700 new lawsuits made possible by a 2019 state law opening a three-year “lookback window” for potential victims to file civil lawsuits based on older childhood sex abuse claims. A June NBC Bay Area investigation found more than 40 Northern California priests or church employees are being accused of sexually assaulting children for the first time, including at least four priests who continue to work in the Bay Area. Those priests refuted the accusations against them directly or through attorneys.
A spokesperson for the San Francisco Archdiocese said they could not comment on any active litigation.
In the absence of San Francisco’s list, McNevin and SNAP have undertaken the task of creating their own, pulling names and information from lawsuits, criminal court filings, media reports and speaking with accusers.
SNAP’s list for San Francisco currently sits at over 300 names, the most of any Northern California diocese. The list grows longer as new lawsuits are filed.
“It’s nice to be able to discover a connection that might help somebody,” McNevin said. “The tough part is talking to survivors who are suffering.”
McNevin’s lists don’t stop with San Francisco. Although every other diocese in California has released their own list, McNevin says his lists far surpass the numbers from the bishops’ lists.
“We’ve gone through all these lists, and we have not found one that is complete,” McNevin said. “It’s a white-wash process.”
In all, McNevin’s lists for Northern California dioceses, which span from Fresno to the Oregon border, contain more than 600 names. Back in 2002, McNevin said there were fewer than 100.
On Thursday, SNAP plans on publishing a letter to Archbishop Cordileone demanding he publish a list of accused San Francisco priests. They also intend to make their own San Francisco list public.
The links below contain the published clergy abuse lists for the 11 other Catholic dioceses in San Francisco.
The Flemish bishops have taken an historic step in the Church’s ministry to gay Catholics by producing an official recognition of same-sex couples within the context of a prayer service.
Their bold move seeks to follow the pastoral approach of Pope Francis rather than the one taken by the Holy See’s doctrine office, which last year said the Church cannot bless same-sex couples. The initiative seeks to balance the pastoral care for gay Catholics while remaining within the bounds of Church teaching and loyal to Rome. It is also another sign that the Church is beginning to make a decisive shift in how it handles LGBTQ Catholics.
Crucially, the bishops say their initiative to couples is in line with the Pope’s family life document, Amoris Laetitia, with its emphasis on discernment, accompaniment and integration and demand that “every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity”.
They also point out that in Amoris Laetitia, Francis argued that an individual’s conscience can recognise what “God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits” even if it does not live up to the “objective ideal”. In other words, unmarried couples or those in “irregular” unions can still make decisions based on conscience and undertake spiritual discernment and development.
“It is the first time that bishops say it’s okay to be LGBT and that this group is to be respected, have a place inside the Church and say ‘we give you a ministry, and a place of exchange and dialogue’,” said Willy Bombeek, who will be coordinating ministry to gay Catholics for the Flemish bishops.
Mr Bombeek is an openly gay Catholic who for decades had worked in Catholic education and as a spokesman for Flemish Catholic schools. Inspired by Francis’ call to give a voice to the voiceless, he started to explore ways for same-sex couples to be accepted and recognised but to do so in a manner that is loyal to the Church.
The matter needed to be addressed, he felt, because clandestine church services for LGBT couples had been taking place for some time. Mr Bombeek brought together a group of gay Catholics, theologians, and parents who produced a document that was submitted to the bishops. To their surprise, the bishops then produced their own prayer text and statement, which was published on 20 September.
The decision by the Dutch-speaking bishops of Belgium formally to recognise gay partnerships has already sparked an aggressive pushback from certain voices in the Church. Some even accuse the bishops of a “schismatic” act that defies Catholic teaching. But this claim has been dismissed by Church commentators in Belgium.
“The Flemish bishops are the last ones to be schismatic,” Hans Geybels, a theologian who is the former spokesman for the late Cardinal Godfried Danneels, said. “They try to keep in line with Rome.”
By coincidence, the bishops are due in Rome in late November for their “ad limina” visit, where they will have meetings with Pope Francis and officials in the Roman Curia.
The same-sex blessing topic is likely to be on the agenda, with the question focussing on the extent to which the Flemish bishops are in breach of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 15 March 2021 ban on blessings for gay couples, which Francis signed off on.
That document emphasised that any blessing ceremony for gay couples “would constitute a certain imitation or analogue of the nuptial blessing” given to married couples. But the bishops have repeatedly stressed that what they have sanctioned is distinct from a sacramental marriage between a man and a woman.
There is also a theological debate about how far the bishops have formally given approval to the “blessings” of same-sex couples. The prayers to be said with couples asks that God “may bless and perpetuate this commitment of love and fidelity” and at the end advises that a “Benediction” or blessing be given to the couple.
Nevertheless, there is enough creative ambiguity in the wording of the prayers, which makes them difficult to “pin down” into a neat category, while the service of recognition of a same-sex couple is described as a “moment of prayer” and is presented as a proposal.
The Flemish bishops have adopted a very different tone, style and approach to the Holy See’s doctrine department, which has produced several harshly worded rulings on homosexuality in recent decades.
He told the British comedian Stephen K Amos, a gay man, that giving “more importance to the adjective [gay] rather than the noun [man]” is not a good and people who “select or discard people because of the adjective…don’t have a human heart”. Even though the Vatican issued a document in 2003 setting out why it is “necessary to oppose legal recognition of homosexual unions”, the Pope has given his support to civil partnerships, and last year Francis said the Church cannot give a credible witness to Jesus Christ through “legalism or clerical moralism”.
He made the latter remarks just a few days after the doctrine office had released their ruling on same-sex blessings.
Both Bombeek and Geybels said the Flemish bishops are seeking to respond to the needs of the local church and are not trying to implement a Church-wide policy. The Dutch-speaking part of Belgium has traditionally been very Catholic but, in recent decades, has seen a huge drop-off in Mass attendance and participation.
For years, the Catholic faith community of our country, in all its sections, together with other social actors to create a climate of respect, recognition and integration. Many of them, moreover, are committed in an ecclesiastical context or a Christian institution. The bishops encourage their collaborators to continue to follow this path. In doing so, they feel supported by the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which Pope Francis wrote after the 2015 Synod of Bishops. Distinguish, accompany and integrate: these remain the key words.
With these words, on 17 March 2021, we, the bishops of our country, published a communiqué on pastoral dealings with homosexual persons and couples. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis explicitly states that every human being, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be respected in his dignity and treated with respect (AL 250). We want to continue on that path by giving this pastoral a more structural character.
Pastoral care and guidance
The pastoral attention of the church community concerns first and foremost the homosexual persons themselves. Along the sometimes complex path of acknowledging, accepting and living positively, we want to remain close to them. Some remain celibate. They deserve our appreciation and support. Others prefer to live as a couple, in lasting and faithful union with a partner. They too deserve our appreciation and support. Because this relationship too, although not a church marriage, can be a source of peace and shared happiness for those involved.
Their family and relatives equally deserve this pastoral attention and guidance. An attitude of understanding and appreciation is of great importance. Pope Francis explicitly asks these families to offer respectful pastoral guidance so that their members who exhibit a homosexual orientation can enjoy the necessary support to understand and fully fulfil the will of God in their lives (AL 250). Our focus should also be on the wider society and church community. Notwithstanding a growing social recognition of the homosexual fellow man, many remain with questions. At the same time, homophobic violence can raise its head. A better understanding can promote better integration.
The Flemish bishops want to anchor their pastoral commitment to homosexual persons and couples on a structural basis. The policy team of the Interdiocesan Service for Family Pastoral Care (IDGP) will have an additional staff member to take this to heart. The bishops have appointed Willy Bombeek for this purpose. In addition, each diocese will appoint someone to look after the same pastoral focus in the context of diocesan family ministry. He or she will be the point of contact for that diocese. As interdiocesan coordinator, Willy Bombeek will work with them and provide them with the necessary training and guidance.
Pastoral of encounter
This pastoral focuses on encounter and conversation. Even believers who live in a stable homosexual relationship desire respect and appreciation. It hurts when they feel they do not belong or are excluded. They want to be heard and recognised. That is what this pastoralapproach is: their story from uncertainty to growing clarity and acceptance; their questions regarding church positions; their joy of knowing a permanent partner; their choice of an exclusive and lasting relationship; their firm desire to take responsibility to take responsibility for each other and their desire to be of service in church and society. In this pastoral approach, there is room for spiritual discernment, for inner growth and for conscientious decisions. Pope Francis calls for people’s conscientious judgment to be people to be valued and supported, even in life situations that the objective ideal of marriage do not fully live up to it: Conscience can earnestly and honestly recognise this which is now the noble answer one can give to God, and it can recognise with some certainty that this answer is the self-giving that God demands amid the complexity of concrete limitations, even if the full objective ideal is not achieved (AL 303).
For homosexualpersons or couples it is important to integrate in the community of faith. About that integration, Pope Francis writes: The important thing is to integrate everyone, to help everyone help everyone to find their own way of being part of the Church community, so that they would be personally touched by the ‘undeserved, unconditional and gratuitous’ mercy. No one should be condemned forever, because that is not the mindset of the Gospel! I address myself not only to divorced people and people in a new relationship, but to all, in whatever situation they find themselves (AL 297).
Prayer for love and faithfulness
During pastoral meetings, people often ask for a moment of prayer to ask God that He may bless and perpetuate this commitment of love and fidelity. What concrete content and form that prayer can take is best discussed by those involved with a pastoral leader. Such a moment of prayer can take place in all simplicity. Also, the difference should remain clear with what the Church understands by a sacramental marriage.
For example, this prayer moment could proceed as follows.
• Opening word
• Opening prayer
• Scripture reading
• Engagement of the two people involved. Together they express before God how they
towards each other.
God of love and faithfulness,
today we stand before You
surrounded by family and friends.
We thank You that we could find each other.
We want to be there for each other
in all circumstances of life.
We confidently express here
that we want to work on each other’s happiness
day by day.
We pray: give us strength
to be faithful to each other
and deepen our commitment.
In your nearness we trust,
from your Word we want to live,
given to each other for good.
• Prayer of the community. The community prays that God’s grace may work
be active in them to care for each other and for the wider community in which they
God and Father,
we surround N. and N. today with our prayer.
You know their hearts and the path they will take together from now on.
Make their commitment to each other strong and faithful.
Mapsalak, who was formerly mayor of Naujaat, Nvt., and served two terms as a member of the Nunavut legislature, said he initially had mixed feelings when he was approached to join the trip. He said he decided to face Rivoire as he believed it could be a healing experience.
“After I did and said what I needed to say to him, I felt a release inside me and I felt a lot better,” he said by phone from his home in Naujaat on Tuesday. “It’s helped me really very much.”
Mapsalak said he spoke to Rivoire, who is now 91 and lives in a care home in Lyon, in Inuktitut as he had spoken and understood the language when he lived in Nunavut.
“I told him I know that he knew exactly what he did to me when I was a child and when I was helpless.”
Mapsalak said Rivoire responded that he didn’t remember anything. He told the former priest he wanted an apology.
“That’s when I left the room, I couldn’t stand looking at him anymore.”
Mapsalak said the last time he saw Rivoire was at the airport in Winnipeg in 1993. He said Rivoire was leaving Canada following allegations that he had abused Inuit children.
“I didn’t get close to him but when he saw me I noticed that his face got really red,” he recalled.
Rivoire was an Oblate priest in Nunavut from the 1960s until 1993 when he returned to France. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. alleges he abused up to 60 children during that time.
The allegations have never been heard in court and Rivoire has denied any wrongdoing.
A Canadian warrant was issued for Rivoire’s arrest in 1998, but criminal charges related to the alleged sexual abuse of four children were stayed in 2017.
Following a new complaint, Rivoire was charged in February with one count of indecent assault of a girl in Arviat and Whale Cove between 1974 and 1979. Canadian judicial authorities have sent an extradition request to France.
Although Canada and France share an extradition treaty, France does not traditionally extradite its citizens. During a meeting with the Inuit delegation, officials with the country’s Justice Ministry said extraditing a French national would violate a constitutional principle. The group said they do not agree that France is prohibited from extraditing its citizens.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate said they have repeatedly urged Rivoire to face the charges against him, but he has refused to return to Canada. As a result, Oblate leaders in France have said they have decided to dismiss Rivoire from their congregation.
Mapsalak said he still hopes to see Rivoire face justice in Canada.
Nadia Debbache, a French lawyer who is working with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. on the case, said she plans to file a complaint against the Oblates and pursue legal action for allegedly concealing a criminal.
“I am in the process of preparing this complaint so that all light may be shed on the behaviour of this congregation,” she wrote in an email.
When Steve Mapsalak left the meeting with his alleged abuser on Wednesday, he felt a weight lift from inside him.
Mapsalak, one of the Inuit delegates from Nunavut who went to France this week to press for the extradition of retired priest Johannes Rivoire, said Thursday the short-notice meeting with Rivoire brought memories flooding back to him.
It also gave him an opportunity to tell Rivoire face-to-face about the pain he and other delegates have gone through.
“It is still painful to have the memory when I see the building, the room [where the abuse happened]. And yet, when I was able to speak to him and share how deeply he had hurt us, I could feel that inside, the deep hurt I have carried for so long, some of it is lifted,” Mapsalak said in Inuktitut Thursday.
Aluki Kotierk, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., translated Mapsalak’s words into English for a crowd of reporters.
“I will be returning to Canada, my community, a little bit lighter, to be back with my children,” Mapsalak said.
He said he still feels Rivoire needs to be returned to Canada to face trial.
Tanya Tungilik, whose father Marius Tungilik had accused Rivoire of sexual abuse, said it was “liberating” to finally tell Rivoire the things she has wanted to say for so long.
She left the room as soon as she finished speaking to him, and wept. With those tears, weight lifted from her as well, she said.
“Just the relief, and the anger and everything — I let it all out. Cried my hardest,” she said. “Saying what I needed to say to him meant everything to me.”
Nunavut Tunngavik — the group that sent the delegation to France — has said it has a plane ticket to Canada ready for Rivoire if he chooses to return voluntarily. Rivoire has repeatedly said he has no intention of coming back to Canada and that he denies the charges of abusing Inuit children in the 1960s and 1970s.
Delegates met with Rivoire and other members of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate on Wednesday in Lyon, France.
“Personally, I felt a great burden going into the room with Rivoire, wanting to articulate in a clear and persuasive manner how much it would mean for all of us if he would just get on the plane,” said Kotierk.
“I did share with him that we have an airplane ticket for him to get on the plane on Friday with us and that we deserve the truth and he needs to face justice.”
While France’s Justice Ministry said Wednesday it was ready to respond to any request from Canada for “mutual legal assistance” in regard to Rivoire, Canada’s justice department has yet to hear from France.
Canada’s Justice Minister David Lametti said Thursday the Department of Justice “has not received any formal response from the French government.”
Canada has made a request to France to extradite Rivoire on charges of sexual abuse, though France has said it has a longstanding “constitutional tradition” of not extraditing nationals.
There is a lot of talk about “synodality” in the Catholic church these days. Synodality refers to a process in which bishops and priests consult with lay Catholics about issues in the church.
In 2021, Pope Francis called for the “Synod on Synodality,” a worldwide discussion of issues that impact the church, which will culminate with a bishops’ meeting in Rome. A final report is scheduled for October 2023.
The Catholic Church in Germany has also moved forward with a national “synodal path” to restore trust after its own sexual abuse scandal.
The German synodal path has been controversial. On Sept. 8, 2022, a minority of German bishops blocked a motion to redefine Catholic teaching on homosexuality, bisexuality, gender identity and masturbation. In response, some proponents of these liberalizations warned they would “take it to Rome.”
As a scholar of global Catholicism, I believe this controversy reflects much wider tensions within Catholicism. In 1910, two-thirds of the world’s Catholics lived in Europe. Today, just one in four do. The church’s numbers have grown most quickly in Africa and Asia. As more power shifts to the global south, the church sometimes struggles to chart a path forward for all regions, each of which has its own distinct perspectives.
The German meeting spotlights particularly difficult topics about sexuality and women’s roles, where some Catholics in Europe, North America and Australia clash with Catholics elsewhere.
The Catholic Church is often assumed to look and feel the same everywhere. But Catholicism is culturally quite diverse.
The most public disagreement involves African Catholics and those in the United States and Europe. For example, Ghanaian Catholic bishops have criticized advocates for LGBTQ rights for imposing “their so-called values and beliefs.” Other African bishops have said they feel betrayed by liberal sentiments in European Catholicism, such as the push to allow Holy Communion for divorced church members.
Tribalism also remains a challenge. For example, a Nigerian priest published a social media video asserting the superiority of the Igbo tribe. In rejecting such attitudes, other African priests have emphasized that African Catholics should draw on the philosophy of “ubuntu” that affirms collective belonging to humanity.
In Japan, for example, where Catholics make up less than 1% of the population, the main dilemma is how Catholics can maintain their community identity. In the Catholic-majority Philippines, recent meetings for the Synod on Synodality have focused on how poverty and corruption impact the Catholic community and the nation as a whole.
Latin America is home to almost 40% of the world’s Catholics. But the rise of Protestantism has concerned many priests and laity. Many new Protestants in Latin America believe that evangelical and Pentecostal communities are more sensitive to their needs, prompting soul-searching for Catholics.
It would be a mistake to see this “walking together” from an exclusively Western perspective. The debate in Germany reflects how ideologically divided Catholicism has become in the Western world alone. And it is not as though churches elsewhere are simply areas of potential problems or disagreements; their faith and rich theological traditions are an important resource for Catholics worldwide.
Still, given the cultural diversity of Catholicism, there are many potential flash points as the Synod on Synodality moves forward: poverty, adapting to local culture, sexuality and gender, church governance and the continuing sexual abuse crisis – just to name a few.
This has left some commentators wondering if anything meaningful can be discussed or achieved. In my view, whether Synod conversations turn into controversies will ultimately depend on how Catholics see themselves as part of a church that is truly global.