Petition to Archbishop Sartain: disclose abuse claim files, empower lay review board

An open letter in the form of an online petition asks Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain to address what it charges is the archdiocese's "incomplete response" to the "clergy abuse crisis."

Posted late Sunday, June 5, the petition acknowledges the archbishop's "deep concern for abuse victims" and "willingness to extend pastoral care to them," but claims "more is needed if we are to truly protect our youth, heal the wounds caused by this horrific evil, and address the continued alienation of Catholics from their Church."

The letter specifically asks:

  • For the public release of "all files, memoranda, settlements and communications related to credible claims of abuse by all clergy and religious who have ministered in this archdiocese or will do so in the future";
  • For the empowerment of "a reconstituted Review Board" that would have "broad, independent access to all Church files concerning clergy abuse of minors," and the "authority to investigate and make recommendations as to policy and discipline for all matters relating to such abuse in the Archdiocese -- past, present and future";
  • That the majority of a new Review Board be "selected by the laity and all of its recommendations made public unless the Archbishop explains in writing to the Catholic community the reasons for not doing so."

The demands are all "consistent with the Dallas Charter," the narrative stated, alluding to the U.S. bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People issued following the bishops' historic 2002 gathering in Dallas to deal with explosive clerical abuse revelations. The document was revised in 2011.

"Full disclosure of secret files and the ongoing involvement of an independent Review Board are necessary to create a sustainable culture and structure of deterrence and accountability," the approximately 700-word letter states.

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On Jan. 15 the Seattle archdiocese published a list of clergy and religious "accused of sexual abuse of a minor who have served or resided in Western Washington," according to an archdiocesan press release.

"The individuals named on the list posted to the archdiocesan website have allegations that are either admitted, established or determined to be credible," the release added.

According to the release, "Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain apologized for the actions of those who abused minors" and said publishing the list builds on the archdiocese's efforts at transparency, accountability and urging victims to continue to come forward.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), however, issued a press release the same day, saying "every time a predator's name is publicized, kids are safer," but also charging "we suspect this is an incomplete list that was prompted by external pressure."

Asked about the petition, archdiocesan spokesman Greg Magnoni told NCR Monday that "our disclosure is a comprehensive list of clergy and religious accused of sexual abuse of a minor who have served or resided in Western Washington after an independent investigation of our records was completed. We voluntarily released this information to encourage victims to come forward. We will continue to review the list to determine if additional information or names should be included."

 He emphasized that the 77 names released Jan. 15 were those meeting the archdiocese's "criteria of allegations having been admitted, established or able to be substantiated" and for whom "the archdiocese has some records."

The Seattle archdiocese was harshly criticized in May 2014 when it came to light that Fr. Harold Quigg, a priest who had been removed from ministry a decade earlier, had nonetheless continued to wear clerics, socialize with parishioners, and perform some baptisms, weddings and funerals. Quigg died in November 2015.

Two of the persons at the forefront of the 2014 criticism were among the first half-dozen signers of the new online petition -- retired state Superior Court Judge Terrence Carroll and former U.S. attorney Michael McKay. The men were the chair and vice chair, respectively, of the archdiocesan sex abuse review board which had strongly recommended in 2004 that Quigg's name and offenses be made public. Sartain's predecessor, Archbishop Alexander Brunett, declined.

The online petition "is mainly to bring further justice and mercy during this year of mercy to the victims and greater confidence in and credibility and transparency to the Church in Western Washington," one of the petition supporters, Mary Sontgerath, told NCR in an email.

The petition declares, "A final and definitive revelation of the historical truth regarding clergy abuse, including attempts to cover up acts of abuse and shield abusers, will provide some measure of justice to the victims who have suffered so horribly. Although many victims continue to come forward, we know, too, there are many others who have and will continue to suffer in silence. We must honor them as well by disclosing the whole truth of what has happened."

[Dan Morris-Young is NCR's West Coast correspondent. His email is dmyoung@ncronline.org.]


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