After months of accusations that it had mishandled the sensitive issue, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on Thursday disclosed the names of 34 priests who have been accused of sexually abusing minors, becoming the latest Roman Catholic Church district to release the identities.
The archdiocese, which serves about 825,000 Catholics in the Twin Cities area, was ordered by the courts this week to release a list it had compiled of "credibly accused abusers" by Dec. 17. It joins about two dozens other dioceses or archdioceses that have released such lists under pressure from victims and their families.
"All clergy feel the shame of the acts of some of their brother priests. We deeply regret the pain caused by sexual abuse by members of the clergy, and we remain committed to protecting children and promoting healing for victims," Archbishop John Nienstedt said in a statement posted on the archdiocese's website. "I sincerely pray that these efforts will contribute to the healing process for victims and others who have been harmed, and serve to protect God's children and foster trust in the Church."
Acknowledging the sexual abuse, Nienstedt apologized to the victims.
"This is a tragedy that has caused insufferable harm to victims, their families, parishioners and the Church. I must say once again to all victims of this abuse: I am so sorry for the pain you have endured. You have been on my mind and in my heart as I offer my daily prayers for you," he stated.
The Roman Catholic Church has been rocked for more than a decade by allegations that some of its priests had sexually abused children in dioceses around the world, particularly in Canada, Ireland and the United States. Major U.S. cities, including Boston and Los Angeles, have dealt with the allegations of abuse and that church leaders tried to cover up the crimes to protect their institutions.
On Thursday, Pope Francis announced that the Vatican is assembling a panel of experts to advise him on clergy sexual abuse. The panel will look at how to protect children from pedophiles, how to help victims and how to better screen applicants for the priesthood.
In Minnesota, the archdioceses had compiled a list in 2004 of 33 priests who were deemed to have been credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor. The list was put together as part of a nationwide study to determine the scope of clergy sexual abuse.
The list released Thursday includes the 33 names from 2004, including four men who had claims against them that could not be substantiated. In addition, the church included the name of a priest recently convicted of child sex crimes.
The list includes allegations dating from the 1950s to the 1980s. All of the men have either died or have been permanently removed from their ministries, according to the church.
In a scenario played out in other parts of the country, attorneys for victims of clergy sexual abuse had sought to make the list public for years, but church leaders argued it should stay secret to protect the reputations of innocent priests who might be listed. Some of the names have previously been made public.
But this week, a Ramsey County district judge ordered the archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona to release the names of 46 priests accused of sexually abusing minors. It is not known when Winona will release its list.
The archdiocese said a review of all clergy files was ongoing and that it expects its public disclosure will be updated regularly as future announcements are made. The new disclosure rules are "part of a comprehensive and cohesive set of actions we have been taking here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis this fall to address the issues associated with clergy sexual misconduct," Nienstedt stated.
"It is the practice of the archdiocese to report promptly to law enforcement all allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors. Any clergy member facing a credible claim of sexual abuse of minors will be removed from ministry pending an investigation of the claim," according to the statement.