The meeting of Catholic leadership in the Vatican to address clerical sex abuse comes amid a busy and controversial time for the church within the United States.
There are now at least 17 states or cities that have open investigations into their respective local dioceses, and a number of states and cities have released lists of priests and church volunteers that they have found to have credible accusations of sexual abuse or misconduct against them.
“People are asking ‘where is the leadership? What have the people who are supposed to be the overseers of this community done or not done?'” said Fr. Mark M. Morozowich, the dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America.
The summit that convened in the Vatican Thursday morning was called by Pope Francis and is set to last for four days.
The meeting comes less than a week after it was announced that Pope Francis officially defrocked the disgraced former cardinal of Washington, D.C., Theodore McCarrick.
Church leaders from more than 100 countries and regions are set to discuss how to protect minors within the church, and it comes at the same time as many outside of the clergy hope to do the same in the U.S. with the various investigations.
Investigations are underway in Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia, as well as with the Archdiocese of Anchorage in Alaska. Spokespeople for several other state attorneys general offices told ABC News that their offices were reviewing options and considering taking similar actions.
The current investigations come more than 15 years after the first bombshell report of Catholic clergy sex abuse rocked the U.S., when The Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ investigation into local priests was first published in 2002.
A series of investigations were launched in the immediate wake of that reporting, prompting the creation of the so-called Dallas Charter by the Catholic Church, where the church implemented new policies that required that priests who faced accusations be temporarily removed from ministry during the investigation, and permanently removed if the accusations were found to be credible.
Morozowich said that the calls for transparency are different now because of a shift outside the church.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a time like this in the history of our country where we’ve put so much attention on sexual abuse, whether it be by the church or other people. We as a society are beginning to really take this issue from the shadows and put it into the light as a society. We’re finally saying ‘Yes, it doesn’t matter who you are: this is wrong,'” Morozowich told ABC News.
About 1,330 priests and clergy members have been identified by various state-level agencies or the local dioceses themselves as having credible allegations filed against them. Here are some recent updates on those released reports:
New Jersey: More than 180 clergy were identified in lists released by the state’s five dioceses in mid-February, with varying levels of detail about the allegations.
Virginia: There were 50 clergy whose names were shared in Virginia in mid-February.
Texas: Nearly 300 priests and clergy members of the Catholic dioceses in Texas were identified in late January for alleged sexual abuse of minors, allegations of which spanned decades. That came about two months after police searched the offices of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in November in connection to an investigation into Rev. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, who is charged with four felony counts of indecency with a child.
Illinois: In December, an investigation by the then-Illinois attorney general’s office identified 500 priests and clergy members with credible claims of sexual abuse against them, all of whom have not been previously identified by church officials and some of whom are still active within the church. The names and list was not released publicly.
Pennsylvania: In August, Pennsylvania’s attorney general released a report from a two-year grand jury investigation that detailed how at least 1,000 children had been abused by 301 priests across the state for decades.
Jesuits: The structural hierarchy of the Catholic Church means that the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits as they are commonly called, are a religious congregation of the Catholic Church yet do not fall under the larger church’s purview. Therefore the Northeast Province of Jesuits were the ones to release their own list of 50 Jesuits with credible abuse allegations in January. The list detailed how some of the alleged abusers circled through various institutions – sometimes for years – after the alleged abuse took place.
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