Like the title character in John Irving’s novel, “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” I have spent much of my life trying to “escape the Catholics.”

But like Owen, I realize you can never escape the Catholics. If you have been raised in the church, no matter how disappointed or angry you are, the church remains a part of you.

For me, Catholicism brings a powerful feeling of belonging to an ancient institution bigger than myself. I share the Catholic love for self-denial, sacrifice and atonement, and although I no longer attend church, I remember the kindness of the parishioners and the honorable priests at my childhood church, Star of the Sea in Kahala.  I also deeply admire the remarkable work of Catholic Charities in helping Hawaii’s elderly and homeless.

But always brewing below the surface for me is dismay at the Catholic leadership’s shameless treatment of women and homosexuals as secondary citizens, and Hawaii church leaders’ continuing efforts to shield priests accused of being sexual predators.

The Catholic Diocese of Honolulu headquarters could do everyone a favor — including the church — by voluntarily releasing more information. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

My latest disappointment is the Honolulu Diocese’s staunch refusal to release a list of clergy and church employees in Hawaii who have been credibly accused.

“Such information exists, “ says attorney Randall Rosenberg, who has successfully sued the Honolulu Diocese on behalf of dozens of plaintiffs.

In his investigations for his clients, he says he has obtained information from the diocese about alleged sexual abusers that church officials originally claimed did not exist.

It would be so much better for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu to do the right thing on its own.

Catholic dioceses around the country are starting to release lists of their credibly accused offenders although there is no agreed-upon standard of what constitutes “credibly accused.”

The Arlington, Virginia, diocese said it defines a “credibly accused” priest as someone who has met at least one of the following criteria: the accused admitted guilt; there has been a determination of guilt in a criminal court, civil court or by a church process; or one of that state’s two diocesan review boards has found the allegation to be credible.

When I called the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu on Friday to ask why it has not released its own list, the first response was in an emailed statement from diocese public relations specialist Laurie LaGrange: “The names of clergy accused in litigation of sexual abuse are already matters of public record.”

But the court records are not that easy to find unless you have information from plaintiffs’ attorneys about legal settlements or you are a sophisticated Internet researcher, savvy about combing through court documents.

When I clarified to LaGrange that the lists released by other Catholic dioceses include the names of all their credibly accused clergy, not just the priests or bishops named in litigation, she emailed back: “The Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu has declined to comment.”

The veil of concealment presumably is there to protect the church’s money from more lawsuits and its reputation from scandal, but it has had the opposite effect, damaging the institution’s standing, making parishioners increasingly mistrustful and sparking suspicion about what’s being hidden.

There’s good reason for the faithful to be mistrustful. The Honolulu Diocese has never officially acknowledged the enormity of the charges against it, especially the credible claims against Honolulu’s former bishop Joseph Ferrario, the first U.S. bishop to be accused of sexually assaulting a child.

Bishop Joseph Ferrario 

According to Father Thomas Doyle, who vetted the candidates for the office of bishop, the Vatican knew Ferrario was named in multiple allegations of sexual abuse, but it appointed him bishop of the Honolulu Diocese anyway.

In 1989, David Figueoa accused Ferrario  of rape at St. Anthony of  Padua Church in Kailua, where Figueroa was a teenaged parishioner, and continuing sexual abuse later after Ferrario became the bishop.

The Honolulu Diocese stuck by Ferrario, saying that Figuero’s accusations were false. Figueroa’s sister told me their family was so hounded by Ferrario supporters that they had to move to Las Vegas, where they now live.

Later, Ferrario was accused of being a rapist and sexual abuser by five accusers with whom the Honolulu Diocese settled, paying millions of dollars.

It’s time now for the Honolulu Diocese to make official and public not only the names of clergy such as Ferrario named in lawsuits, but also names of all the credibly accused clerics it has information about in its own files.

Attorney Mark Gallagher sex abuse press conference held at the HIlton Hawaiian Village.
Attorney Mark Gallagher has represented dozens of victims filing suit against the church. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Attorney Mark Gallagher, who has successfully reached sexual abuse settlements with the diocese for dozens of clients,  including those allegedly abused by Ferrario, believes the diocese is stonewalling because it has information about other accused clerics whose names have not yet been made public.

The time for hiding is over.

Of 178 Catholic dioceses in the United States, the nonprofit says 113, as well as 11 religious orders, have released the names of their credibly-accused clergy. Some have done so voluntarily, others after they were sued.

The Roman Catholic Church of Pennsylvania saw its information become public in August 2018 in a grand jury report that revealed 300 priests had been accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 victims in six dioceses in Pennsylvania.

The report revealed the church leaders had six ways to cover up sexual abuse including locking away complaints in a secret archive, conducting phony internal investigations to favor the abuser and avoiding reporting credible accusations to the police.

Following the Pennsylvania grand jury investigation, attorneys general in 14 states and Washington, D.C., launched similar investigations.

A measure has gained preliminary approval in the Hawaii Senate calling for the state attorney general to conduct a similar statewide investigation of alleged sexual abuse in Hawaii’s Catholic church.

Many Catholic dioceses are now volunteering information. Last month two dioceses in Virginia listed 58 of their clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse.

Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Arlington, Virginia, Diocese said the goal was “to help victims and survivors of clergy abuse to find healing and further consolation.” The Arlington diocese hired retired FBI investigators to help it find reports of credibly accused sexual abusers long hidden in official church records.

On Feb. 13 in New Jersey, five dioceses released similar lists with 188 people identified as credibly accused offenders, as did the religious office of the order of the Jesuits.

The Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, said any religious order that wants to continue serving in the diocese must release the names of all its credibly accused members.

The Honolulu Diocese has never officially released to the public the names of any of its accused clergy, even those for whom it has paid millions of dollars in more than a hundred settlements to adult men and a few women who allege priests sexually abused them when they were children.

Jeff Anderson and Associates, a Minnesota legal firm, is the only agency to release a list of accused clergy in the Diocese of Honolulu. The list released last year goes back to 1950 and lists 58 clerics credibly accused of sexually assaulting children in the islands.

Jeff Anderson has been co-counsel with Honolulu attorney Gallagher on more than 60 successfully settled lawsuits. He said Saturday in a telephone interview from Minnesota that  he is working on a legal challenge to force the Honolulu Diocese to release the names of all its credibly accused clergy.

Anderson says he has forced out this kind of information in the past in other jurisdictions by filing lawsuits accusing dioceses of creating public nuisances by refusing to release information that will protect the public from danger.

It would be so much better for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu to do the right thing on its own.

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