Bishop Shawn McKnight released a list of 33 priests and religious brothers who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Jefferson City.
McKnight released the names at a news conference Thursday as a next step in the diocese’s commitment to transparency and healing.
“After an independent review of the files of our living priests, deacons and seminarians and an internal review of the files of our deceased clergy, I am confident that no priest, deacon or religious now serving in the Diocese of Jefferson City has ever been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor,” McKnight said.
Those who were credibly accused have either been removed from ministry or are deceased, he said.
“It is with great sorrow that I publish this list,” McKnight said. “I humbly and sincerely offer my deepest apologies to those who have been abused by clergy and religious.”
The names on the list are clergy the diocese has either deemed unsuitable for the ministry out of the concern for children’s safety or who have credible violations of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
An allegation is deemed credible if the abuse is more than likely to be true based on the available information, he said.
If a priest is removed from ministry, it means he can no longer present himself as a priest. None of the men removed from ministry was then placed in administrative or teaching roles or any other active form of ministry, Diocese Communications Director Helen Osman said.
The list covers credible accusations lodged since the diocese was created in 1956. Fourteen of the 33 clergy on the list have died.
McKnight said that since July 2003, the diocese has spent $4.7 million on these cases. Prior to 2003, the diocese spent $1.5 million.
“For our small diocese, it is a large amount,” McKnight said. “I do this to be transparent and accountable to those who have contributed not just finances but time and talents to our church.”
McKnight also said $2.1 million has been spent to provide “sustenance” for those who have been removed from ministry. The diocesan infirm priest fund provided $1.8 million, and $300,000 came from the community reconciliation fund. None of the money has come from donations to the parish offertory collections or the diocesan annual appeal for the care of survivors.
“Our support must be done in the context of minimal sustenance,” he said. “The charter prescribes that those clergy who have harmed people by sexual abuse should live lives of prayer and penance.”
The Diocese of Jefferson City covers 38 counties in northeastern and central Missouri.
The diocese did not say where specifically the abuse occurred. McKnight said he didn’t include the information out of respect for the victims and their families.
“It’s not because we’re trying to hide something,” McKnight said. “Many priests served over a variety of different places. I think it would be misleading to only report where an accusation came from. We want to open it up to anyone in the diocese or anyone who has information about these priests to come forward.”
The number of victims is unknown, McKnight said. Many of the priests had multiple victims, he said, and not all have come forward.
A review board, mostly composed of laity, sees all available information about new allegations. The board’s 25 members have backgrounds in law enforcement, medicine, counseling and law.
“When we receive a report, there’s an initial determination of whether or not there’s the semblance of truth, just the basic facts of time and place are there,” McKnight said. “Once that has been established, a more complete investigation is conducted. All of that information is then shared with the review board.”
The board then makes a recommendation to McKnight for the final determination. Since the bishop’s announcement in late August that he intended to release the names, there have been 18 more allegations of abuse, dating to decades ago. Some of the new investigations are ongoing. The list will be updated if and when credible allegations are determined.
“Some of (the 33 men) have been investigated, but for whatever reason, law enforcement has chosen not to pursue their cases. Of course, as you know, that doesn’t mean they’re not guilty,” McKnight said. “That’s where the church has to step in and do what we can out of concern for the safe environment we want for our church and for society.”
Gerald Howard, a former priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, pleaded guilty in 2014 to molesting three teenage boys in the 1980s in Boonville, according to court records. Howard was sentenced to 12 years on all three felony charges.
When McKnight was ordained as bishop Feb. 6, he contracted an outside firm of former FBI and law enforcement officials to conduct an independent internal review. In August, McKnight invited the state attorney general to review the diocese’s files. The diocese continues to cooperate with the attorney general, he said.
Over the past 12 days, McKnight held six listening sessions around the diocese about clergy sexual abuse in preparation for the U.S. Conference of Bishops fall assembly next week.
“I am ashamed and appalled at how some of my brother bishops and priests have harmed so many,” McKnight said. “Next week, the bishops of the United States will meet in Baltimore to discuss this crisis in our church.”
Anyone with information about any priest, deacon or religious brother or sister can contact the civil authorities. People can also contact Nancy Hoey, the victims assistance coordinator of the diocese. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and her phone number is (573) 694-3199.
Below are the names, diocese and status of those who were on the list. The diocese did not say where specifically the abuse occurred.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.