One day after Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian posted on his firm’s website a list of 117 Catholic priests and other church workers who, he said, were named in sexual abuse complaints for which he has obtained settlements or arbitration awards, critics are wondering whether he did the right thing.
Frustrated that Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley reneged on his promise almost two years ago to release a list of priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children in the Archdiocese of Boston, Garabedian -- who said he has represented more than 750 victims of sexual abuse by clergy -- took matters into his own hands.
He said he was acting in the best interest of the victims, survivors, and their families -- but was he?
It's tempting for critics to accuse Garabedian of being an ambulance chaser. But if we are to believe the victim advocacy groups -- and in this case, why shouldn't we? -- it seems Garabedian's heart was in the right place. The groups have made such a list their top priority in the hopes that the publication of the names will help to protect victims.
Terence McKiernan, co-director of BishopAccountability.org (which tracks sexual abuse by Catholic clergy around the United States but did not have 18 of the names on Garabedian's list), explains:
It’s not just about safety of children in the future, it also enables people who have been suffering terribly from past abuse to come forward.
Moreover, as Garabedian maintains, the publicly naming of the credibly accused priests is a necessary step in the victims' healing process. In addition, he argued that the church, by not naming the abusers, retains an advantage over victims:
If you bring a claim and you say, "X molested my client," they can say, "Well, we have never heard of X molesting a child before."
Garabedian hopes that a public list will level the playing field in future settlement agreements. After all, dioceses across the country -- including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Chicago -- have lists of credibly accused abusers. Why should Boston be any different?
For its part, the archdiocese of Boston says that its process for dealing with sexual abuse includes: immediately reporting all allegations to local law enforcement; publicly disclosing when a member of the clergy is removed from active ministry pending an investigation; and publicly disclosing when a priest is convicted of the sexual abuse of a minor as the result of a criminal process.
In other words, if a priest is convicted of sexual abuse, then they are publicly disclosed. But if they are "only" credibly accused, the church does not disclose their names.
And for many victims, their families, and Garabedian, this policy simply isn't good enough.
Do you think Garabedian did the right thing by releasing the list?
Image via Rchard/Flickr