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Op-Ed: Survivors' Networks Sees Good, Bad in Covington Diocese Abuse List

The following op-ed is written by Zach Hiner, executive director of St. Louis-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP)

There is good news and bad news in the just released list of abusers associated with the Diocese of Covington.

The good news is that Bishop Roger Foys chose to expose not only priests but also deacons, brothers, nuns, and lay employees. Very few prelates choose to be as open when releasing their own lists, opting instead to split hairs and deny responsibility rather than naming all abusers who worked within their boundaries.

For that, Bishop Foys deserves to be commended.

The bad news is that despite that openness, the Covington list remains sadly deficient.

Critically, it lacks photographs of abusers and information about how Catholic officials handled allegations when they were first made. Those two bits of information are very important to victims and their families.

Photographs can help jog the memory of someone who as a young child may have blocked out what was done to them. They can also identify someone who was known only informally as “Father John.”

Similarly, details regarding when allegations were made as well as other information related to the abuse itself (such as where and when it occurred, the age of the victim, etc.) can help inform communities about the prevalence of sexual violence. In addition it can cause them to wonder if it happened among their neighbors or loved ones. Those conversations open a dialogue that leads to both prevention and transparency.

One of the most glaring omissions in the Covington list is that it does not identify the enablers who allowed allegations to go unreported for so long. Of the 90 names on Covington’s list, only two of the named priests were arrested. This signals that allegations were minimized and crimes were covered up. Making matters worse, those enablers may still be out there, in Covington or elsewhere, hiding other abusers.

Finally, when breaking down the numbers, Covington has one of the worst ratios of abusers to parishioners in the nation. According to our analytics and using the total of 90 abusers released in the list, the ratio is one abuser for every 1,052 parishioners. Because children usually make up a third of parishioners, this ratio can be looked at as one abuser for every 360 children. That is a lot of danger for boys and girls within the Catholic communities in the Diocese.

And it gets worse - because there are only 52 parishes and high schools within the Diocese, each of those institutions averaged about two abusers. Statistics have shown that abusers tend to work in about eight parishes during a career, so the number of abusers per parish likely is higher than 2 – more like 6 to 8.

Safe institutions cannot be designed without honest data. Facts are needed. On top of these names, Bishop Foys should provide timelines and abuse locations so that the complete story can be mapped and discussed. This exercise will provide the tools for meaningful outreach and reform and help the Diocese of Covington move closer towards preventing abuse before it  happens.

SNAP reports that it has more than 25,000 survivors of abuse and their supporters in its network. It has been in existence for thirty years.

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