Advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse delivered a list of more than 300 publicly accused abusers to the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco on Thursday as they urged him to release his “secret” files on credibly accused priests.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests took aim at Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone for being one 15 U.S. bishops — representing fewer than 10% of all dioceses — not to publicly name abusive clerics.
“Every bishop is his own king and they can do what they want with these lists. About 158 bishops in the United States have released lists over the past three or four years,” said Dan McNevin of SNAP, and a church abuse survivor. “But the archbishop of San Francisco will not publish a list. And so we think it’s really important to get this list out, to get it published, to update it, to provide information to victims and their families.”
An archdiocese spokesperson declined to answer emailed questions about why the archbishop hasn’t released a list of priests or whether he would reconsider doing so.
In a statement, the archdiocese said it reports sexual abuse allegations to authorities, an independent review board and parishes. Lawsuits are addressed in court.
“Such allegations are treated very seriously to protect the victims and the vulnerable and to insure justice for all involved,” the statement said. “Other than allegations that are facially not credible, investigations are initiated for any claims received. Any priest under investigation is prohibited from exercising public ministry.”
All but 15 dioceses in the U.S. have either posted their own lists of credibly accused priests or, in the case of Colorado dioceses, provided names to that state’s attorney general that were subsequently published, according to the advocacy and research group Bishop-Accountability.org. The group’s list doesn’t include eparchies, the Eastern Catholic equivalent to dioceses. Twenty-nine provinces of religious orders have also published lists.
But the releases vary widely in quality, said Terry McKiernan, president of Bishop-Accountaiblity.org. Some include the priest’s full assignment histories, photos and other details, while others don’t. And not every diocese provides cross-references for when a priest of one diocese worked in another.
“They’re all over the map,” McKiernan said.
As inconsistent as the lists are, they have provided many names not otherwise known publicly, and most dioceses in other countries have not followed suit.
The first lists were published two decades ago, and often dioceses release lists in response to outside events, such as a criminal investigation, McKiernan said. The last major surge of releases followed the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury investigation into six dioceses.
Dioceses releasing the names of abusers can be healing for those who survived the abuse, McKiernan said.
“It is one thing when Bishop-Accountability puts something out, but if a bishop does it, it’s tantamount to an admission,” McKiernan said. “Survivors have told me when it’s actually acknowledged by the institution itself, it makes a difference.”
SNAP said it gathered the names of the 312 men associated with the San Francisco archdiocese over decades from lawsuits and investigations that were publicly disclosed. The vast majority were priests, about 10% were brothers and about five were lay persons.
All but about 30 or 40 of the men on the list have previously been named by other dioceses. Because abusers were often shuffled between dioceses, a SNAP spokesperson said it was important to name all of them so parishioners or parents of children educated by them in the San Francisco Bay area are aware they had been accused.
“It’s rare that they only have one victim,” Mike McDonnell said. “Wherever they go, we fear their predilections travel with them.”
By NICOLE WINFIELD, GANTRY MEILANA and HELENA ALVES
The Catholic Church’s decades-long sex abuse scandal caught up with a Nobel Peace Prize winner Thursday, with the Vatican confirming that it had sanctioned the East Timor independence hero, Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, following allegations that he sexually abused boys there during the 1990s.
The Vatican admission came a day after a Dutch magazine, De Groene Amsterdammer, exposed the claims against the revered Catholic bishop, citing two of Belo’s alleged victims and reporting there were others who hadn’t come forward in East Timor, where the church wields enormous influence.
Spokesman Matteo Bruni said the Vatican office that handles sex abuse cases received allegations “concerning the bishop’s behavior” in 2019 and within a year had imposed the restrictions. They included limitations on Belo’s movements and his exercise of ministry, and prohibited him from having voluntary contact with minors or contact with East Timor.
In a statement, Bruni said the sanctions were “modified and reinforced” in November 2021 and that Belo had formally accepted the punishment on both occasions.
The Vatican provided no explanation, however, for why St. John Paul II allowed Belo to resign as head of the church in East Timor two decades early in 2002, and why church authorities permitted him to be sent to Mozambique, where he worked with children.
News of Belo’s behavior sent shock waves through the heavily Catholic, impoverished Southeast Asian nation, where he is regarded as a hero for fighting to win East Timor’s independence from Indonesian rule.
“We are here also in shock to hear this news,” an official at the archdiocese of Dili in East Timor said Thursday, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Others said they would stand with Belo for his contributions to the country and its struggle for independence.
“We accept and submit to any decision issued by the Vatican on the allegation against Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, whether it is right or wrong,” said Gregoriu Saldanha, who chairs the November 12th Committee, a youth organization established after a massacre at Santa Cruz during Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor.
He said at a news conference in Dili that “we will still stand with Bishop Belo, because we realize, as a human being, Belo has weaknesses or mistakes like others. If he does wrongdoing, it’s his individual fault, nothing to do with the religion.”
He added that “We cannot ignore his kindness and what he has fought for the people of East Timor. Belo is part of our struggle for independence. As a leader of the Catholic church, he has provided supports and solidarity for the people’s struggle.”
De Groene Amsterdammer said two alleged victims, identified only as Paulo and Roberto, reported being abused by Belo and said other boys were also victims. It said its investigation showed that Belo’s abuse was known to the East Timorese government and to humanitarian and church workers.
“The bishop raped and sexually abused me that night,” Roberto was quoted as telling the magazine. “Early in the morning he sent me away. I was afraid because it was still dark. So I had to wait before I could go home. He also left money for me. That was meant so that I would keep my mouth shut. And to make sure I would come back.”
Belo won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 with fellow East Timorese independence icon Jose Ramos-Horta for campaigning for a fair and peaceful solution to conflict in their home country as it struggled to gain independence from Indonesia, a former Dutch colony.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee, in its citation, praised Belo’s courage in refusing to be intimidated by Indonesian forces. The committee noted that while trying to get the United Nations to arrange a plebiscite for East Timor, he smuggled out two witnesses to a bloody 1991 massacre so they could testify to the U.N. human rights commission in Geneva.
The Nobel Committee declined to respond to the allegations, other than to say it generally doesn’t comment on past laureates. In a recent exception, the committee rebuked its 2019 winner, the Ethiopian prime minister, over the war and humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region.
Ramos-Horta went on to become president of East Timor, a former Portuguese colony. Upon his return Thursday from the United States, where he addressed the U.N. General Assembly, Ramos-Horta was asked about the allegations against Belo and deferred to the Vatican. “I prefer to await further action from the Holy See,” he said.
The United Nations called the allegations “truly shocking,” and said they must be “fully investigated,” according to a statement from U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
Belo, who was believed to be living in Portugal, didn’t respond when reached by telephone by Radio Renascença, the private broadcaster of the Portuguese church.
Belo is a priest of the Salesians of Don Bosco, a Roman Catholic religious order that has long had influence at the Vatican. The Portuguese branch of the Salesians said Thursday that it learned “with great sadness and astonishment” of the news.
The branch distanced itself from Belo, saying he hadn’t been linked to the order since he took charge in East Timor. However, Belo is still a Salesian bishop, listed in the Vatican yearbook by his Salesian initials “SDB” at the end of his name.
“As regards issues covered in the news, we have no knowledge that would allow us to comment,” the Salesian statement said.
It said the Portuguese Salesians took in Belo at the request of their superiors after he left East Timor in 2002 and because he was highly regarded, but said he had done no pastoral work in Portugal.
The Dutch magazine said its research indicated that Belo also abused boys in the 1980s before he became a bishop when he worked at an education center run by the Salesians.
Paulo, now 42, told the Dutch magazine he was abused once by Belo at the bishop’s residence in East Timor’s capital, Dili. He asked to remain anonymous “for the privacy and safety of himself and his family,” the magazine said.
“I thought: This is disgusting. I won’t go there any more,” the magazine quoted him as saying.
Roberto, who also asked to remain anonymous, said he was abused more often, starting when he was about 14 after a religious celebration in his hometown. Roberto later moved to Dili, where the alleged abuse continued at the bishop’s residence, the Dutch magazine reported.
It is unclear whether or when any alleged victims ever came forward to local church, law enforcement or Vatican authorities.
St. John Paul II accepted Belo’s resignation as apostolic administrator of Dili on Nov. 26, 2002, when he was 54. The Vatican announcement at the time cited canon law that allows bishops under the normal retirement age of 75 to retire for health reasons or for some other “grave” reasons that make them unable to continue.
In 2005, Belo told UCANews, a Catholic news agency, that he resigned because of stress and poor health. Belo had no other episcopal career after that, and Groene Amsterdammer said he moved to Mozambique and worked as a priest there.
Belo told UCANews he moved to Mozambique after consulting with the head of the Vatican’s missionary office, Cardinal Cresenzio Sepe, and agreed to work there for a year and expected to return to East Timor.
“I do pastoral work by teaching catechism to children, giving retreats to young people. I have descended from the top to the bottom,” UCANews quoted Belo as saying.
Efforts to reach Sepe, who is now retired, were not successful.
By 2002, when Belo retired as head of the church in East Timor, the sex abuse scandal had just exploded publicly in the United States and the Vatican had just begun to crack down on abusive priests, requiring all cases of abuse to be sent to the Vatican for review.
Bishops, however, were exempted from that requirement. Only in 2019 did Pope Francis pass a church law requiring all sexual misconduct against bishops to be reported internally, and providing a mechanism to investigate the claims, suggesting the new law triggered the Vatican to take action in Belo’s case.
It is possible that Belo’s sexual activity with teens was dismissed by the Vatican in the early 2000s if it involved 16- or 17-year-olds, since the Vatican in those years considered such activity to be sinful but consensual. Only in 2010 did the Vatican raise the age of consent to 18.
Belo is not the only church official in East Timor accused of abuse. A defrocked American priest, Richard Daschbach, was found guilty last year by a Dili court of sexually abusing orphaned and disadvantaged young girls under his care and was sentenced to 12 years in prison, the first such case of its kind in the country.
— 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.
In arguably the clearest sign yet that he is under active criminal investigation, a retired Catholic priest from New Orleans who has been publicly accused of molesting “countless” children but never charged has acknowledged that the FBI recently questioned him.
Lawrence Hecker, 91, declined to elaborate on exactly when FBI agents met with him or what they asked him as they reportedly lead an investigation into whether clerics serving a Louisiana region that is home to nearly half a million Catholics took children across state lines to abuse them. But, in a brief conversation with the Guardian, Hecker admitted that FBI agents had spoken with him.
“I told them I needed to speak to my attorney, and that’s where we left it,” Hecker said, apparently indicating he invoked his constitutional rights to be represented by a lawyer when interrogated and to otherwise remain silent during the talk with agents.
Hecker’s lawyer, Eugene Redmann, confirmed that the FBI at least interacted with his client at some point last week but would not comment beyond that.
“I just don’t have enough information, frankly, and additionally it was a brief encounter as opposed to any sort of in-depth questioning,” Redmann said of his client’s exchange with the FBI, which let Hecker go at the end of the meeting without arresting him.
An FBI spokesperson said the agency had no comment about Hecker, citing a US justice department policy against confirming or denying the existence of any investigation.
While Hecker’s name may not be known nationwide, in New Orleans, he is perhaps the most notorious still-living priest on a list of clerics who have worked in that area over the decades and were subject to credible allegations of using their status as a priest or deacon to sexually exploit and molest children.
The roster has swelled from more than 50 names to nearly 80 since the city’s archbishop, Gregory Aymond, first released the list in 2018 as local Catholic leaders continued trying to manage the fallout of the worldwide church’s decades-old clergy molestation crisis.
Much of what is known about the allegations against Hecker came in the form of a lawsuit filed after that roster of accused clergy abusers was published. Lawyers for the plaintiff in that case allege that Hecker abused their client in 1968 while the accuser was a boy studying at a Catholic school in a New Orleans suburb, portraying it as just one act of molestation inflicted on a minor by “a serial pedophile who abused countless children”.
The lawsuit in question alleges that Hecker’s supervisors knew he had committed crimes for which he can still be punished because there is no deadline by which he needs to be charged for them, something that legally is known as a statute of limitation.
But, the lawsuit maintained, Hecker’s supervisors did not immediately report him to law enforcement authorities, saying the handling of his case was no different from those at the heart of the scandal that engulfed Boston’s Catholic archdiocese in 2002 and prompted the worldwide church to implement transparency policies as well as other reforms.
Hecker, in court filings, later denied the plaintiff’s claims.
Nonetheless, an attorney for New Orleans’ archdiocese eventually disclosed in open court that church officials first learned Hecker was accused of molestation in 1988 and that they later paid out at least four civil financial settlements in cases involving various accusations against him. Yet, despite abuse claims that were worth paying to settle, Hecker was allowed to work in the archdiocese until he retired in 2002.
Transparency policies that US bishops voted to enact that year should have resulted in Hecker being publicly identified as a strongly suspected child molester. But another 16 years passed before the archdiocese publicly acknowledged its suspicion that Hecker was an abuser.
Meanwhile, until the summer of 2020, Hecker continued receiving retirement benefits that included a pension, insurance coverage and – at least for a time – a church-paid apartment, which outraged victim advocacy groups who have long yearned to see him and other alleged but unpunished clergy abusers endure being criminally prosecuted.
Despite the church claiming it was morally obliged to provide such benefits regardless of whether the recipients were accused of misconduct, those perks were discontinued by a federal judge overseeing the local archdiocese’s request for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections, which the church argued it needed in the face of mounting abuse lawsuits and financial strains associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
The bankruptcy filing – still pending – indefinitely halted the lawsuits entangling Hecker and other accused clergy abusers, cases that were in general largely sealed off from public view at the request of church attorneys.
That bankruptcy-related pause in litigation didn’t prevent Hecker from sitting for a deposition in late December 2020 by the plaintiff whose lawsuit has revealed much of what is known about the church’s handling of allegations against him. And the plaintiff – who has long argued that Hecker is dangerous as long as he’s alive, no matter how old he is – requested that the contents of that potentially explosive deposition be unsealed so that the public had a full understanding of the case.
Nonetheless, after a closed-door hearing, the request to unseal the deposition was denied.
In early July, the Associated Press reported that the FBI had interviewed more than a dozen alleged victims of abusive clergy who had worked in New Orleans as agents opened an investigation into alleged sex abuse by church personnel there.
The AP reported that the investigation – which went back decades – was examining whether predator clerics could be prosecuted under the Mann Act, an anti-human trafficking law that for more than 100 years has prohibited taking anyone across state lines for illicit sex and has no statute of limitation.
The AP’s report noted that Hecker was one of the clerics that the FBI’s investigation was scrutinizing, having been accused of abusing children decades ago on out-of-state trips as well as misconduct ranging from fondling to rape.
Because of Hecker’s advanced age and how long criminal cases can take to prosecute in the US, many who track clerical abuse cases are uncertain whether he might ever face punishment. Multiple clerics who were unmasked as suspected abusers after the archbishop released his 2018 list have since died either without being tried or convicted, despite sometimes being under active investigation by authorities.
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.