A watchdog group is pushing Cardinal Sean O'Malley to release a promised list of suspected pedophile priests in Boston, highlighting a church document that indicates the list could include up to 40 names that haven't been made public.
The number appears in the minutes of an Archdiocesan Pastoral Council meeting held exactly a year ago Friday. The document records a discussion about the list, as well as questions by council members and answers by archdiocesan officials, including:
Question: "How many names will be on the list of credibly accused priests?"
Answer: "155 names will appear, of which 40 may be new names."
Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org, which collects and posts information about the clergy sex abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church, said that number of unnamed priests is "staggering" and accused O'Malley of purposely stalling the list's release.
She said a delay can prevent civil suits against the archdiocese because a case's statute of limitations expires, and fading memories make it tougher to prove culpability among church officials. Meanwhile, victims are denied public acknowledgement of their abusers' crimes, Doyle said.
"The suffering (that the archdiocese's) silence is inflicting on victims is not consistent with Cardinal O'Malley's frequent statements about compassion for victims," Doyle said.
Kelly Lynch, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said the archdiocese is still vetting the plans to disclose additional information about accused clergy, and the names referred to in the council minutes may not be on the final list.
She added that each of the 40 previously unnamed priests referred to in the meeting's minutes is deceased.
Lynch also said the archdiocese immediately tells law enforcement about any past or present sex abuse accusation against any priest, even if it doesn't publicly release the name.
Church policy is to release clergy names if they are removed from active ministry or if they are convicted of sex abuse in a criminal or church process.
In the last two days, groups including BishopAccountability, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and the Voice of the Faithful lay Catholic group have called on O'Malley to release the list.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley's office said it plans to meet "in the near future" with representatives of BishopAccountability.org, which has asked it to get involved.
The pressure to release the list of accused priests comes two years after a March 2009 letter from O'Malley to an advisory committee, in which he said the archdiocese was considering improving its policy on releasing information about accused clergy.
In the meeting minutes from March 2010, the Rev. John Connolly, Special Assistant to the Cardinal, said the archdiocese was working to compile the list, and that 27 other U.S. dioceses have already released such lists.
"Hopefully, it will also promote pastoral healing and the rebuilding of trust in the Church of Boston," the minutes read.
But in the document, church officials said several groups needed to be consulted first, including victims, accused priests and their families. The church has also frequently cited concerns about due process for accused priests.
Stephen Clifford, who says he was molested by a priest while growing up in Wellesley, said the longer the church waits, the more credibility it loses.
Clifford, 43, of Natick, said he was molested by a priest at about age 13 after the priest persuaded him to go to his room to listen to a record. The priest has not been named in a criminal matter or civil suit, but Clifford worries he might just be one of his many victims. He said releasing the names could lead others to come forward to get help and possibly rid him of a "lingering guilt" that the abuse was somehow his fault.
"I think every victim, especially a child victim, has that guilt. Like what did I do to cause this?" he said. "I think it would help just put that away. Like this wasn't my fault, he was doing it to other people, too."
But Clifford added that's a "double-edged sword."
"On the one hand, I'd know that it wasn't just me, and on the other hand I have guilt about the fact I that didn't do anything. ... I didn't do anything to stop him, and I wish I'd had the courage to do that," he said.