FARGO — The Catholic Dioceses of Fargo and Bismarck should be commended for finally releasing the dozens of names of clergy and religious members who have been accused of sexually abusing children. Better late than never. Full disclosure: One of the priests on the list has been a longtime family friend, and co-officiated my wedding.
“I first ask forgiveness for the shameful acts of those clergy who caused harm to young people and abused the trust placed in them by God and the faithful,” Fargo Bishop John Folda said in a statement. “No excuse can be made for these actions, nor does this release of names fully address the pain of victims of abuse.” Folda’s comments are sincere, direct and comforting.
Fargo attorney Tim O’Keeffe represents several victims of sexual abuse committed by area Catholic Church officials. “It’s a good first step,” O’Keeffe said. “We’ve waited a long time for this list.”
Nancy (not her real name) was sexually abused by a North Dakota priest when she was 12-years-old. “It was so scary,” Nancy said. “He told me not to tell anybody.”
Nancy is still receiving therapy for the abuse, and that abuse permanently changed her. “I’m still afraid of people,” Nancy said. “I used to be outgoing, but now I’m introverted. I still feel the horror.”
Seeing the name of the priest who abused her finally publicly identified by the diocese means a lot to Nancy. “I’m not the bad person anymore for accusing him,“ Nancy said. “Now, I feel so relieved. I feel totally vindicated.”
Still, O’Keeffe is not satisfied. He said the dioceses need to release more information, such as the dates of the misconduct, the parish assignments of the offenders, and where they are living. He also said the list is incomplete. “We know of more cases of priests who should be on that list,” O’Keeffe said.
Attorney Mike Bryant agrees. He represents four clients in North Dakota, who are victims of sexual abuse from priests. Bryant said the church is not naming priests involved in fairly recent incidents because the dioceses don’t want any more lawsuits.
“They clearly held names back,” Bryant said. “These are all old offenses. There are no names from the last 30 years. The idea that nothing happened recently is ludicrous.”
Bryant said one of his clients, from Fargo, was abused by a priest whose name was not on the list, and he’s still serving as a priest. “I’m 100% convinced that she was sexually abused,” Bryant said. “I’m convinced because of her story, her emotion, and the way the church has dealt with it.”
In his statement, Folda said he considers the list of clergy “complete for now,” but “not a closed list.” He went on to say, “I am encouraged that there have been very few substantiated cases of abuse in recent decades.”
However, Folda has declined to answer any questions about the list. The issues raised by O’Keeffe and Bryant deserve answers.