Diocese of Providence releases list of clergy credibly accused of the sexual abuse of minors

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PROVIDENCE — At the direction of Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, the Diocese of Providence on July 1 published on its website a list of 50 clerics credibly accused of the sexual abuse of minors.

The bishop, in a statement, described the publication of the list as “a difficult but necessary moment in the life of our diocesan Church.”

“In doing so, our thoughts and prayers turn first to all those who have been harmed by the grave sin of sexual misconduct by clerics — priests and deacons — over the years. To the victims/survivors and their families, and to the many Catholics who have been rightly scandalized by these disgraceful events, I offer the profound apology of the Church and the Diocese of Providence. We pray fervently that God will give you the grace of healing and peace,” Bishop Tobin wrote.

He noted that the publication of the list is also an opportunity for the diocese to renew its commitment to provide safe environments for children and youth, as well as to respond aggressively whenever sexual abuse is reported by working closely in collaboration with civil authorities and providing material, psychological and spiritual care for the victims/survivors of abuse.

“This is the path that the Diocese of Providence has followed for many years, and in this moment, we reaffirm our solemn pledge to continue doing so in the future,” Bishop Tobin wrote.

The list of credibly accused clerics includes 19 members of the clergy who are still living, with 17 priests ordained from 1946-1990, the most recent removed from ministry in 2016; along with two deacons, both ordained in 1979 and removed from ministry in 2011.

Also on the list of credibly accused are 25 priests now deceased, who were ordained from 1930-1978, with the most recent removed from ministry in 2013; and four deceased religious order priests, ordained from 1952-1972, with the most recent removed from ministry in 2005.

The final two individuals are named as “Publicly Accused,” which means that both, now deceased, who were ordained in 1935 and 1960, retired in good standing, with the accusations made against them after their deaths, dating back 37 and 54 years respectively.

Kevin O’Brien, the director of the diocesan Office of Compliance, was tasked with conducting an independent, thorough and objective review of files dating back nearly 70 years to 1950 — a time frame, according to diocesan officials, that is used by many other dioceses as a benchmark in reviewing abuse cases — in order to compile a list of clergy credibly accused in the Diocese of Providence.

O’Brien, a retired, 23-year veteran of the Rhode Island State Police, who served as a former major and commander of the Detective Division, came to the Diocese of Providence in 2015.

He employed his training and expertise in law enforcement to make assessments and judgements regarding evidence contained in diocesan files to compile a list for release to the public at the direction of Bishop Tobin.

“When I was tasked with compiling the list by Bishop Tobin and Msgr. [Albert] Kenney [vicar general and moderator of the diocesan curia], the expectation was that I would do so objectively, transparently and without any undue influence,” O’Brien said. “I had complete autonomy to develop and implement the process.”

O’Brien was assisted by Dr. Michael Hansen, a licensed Rhode Island psychologist who has served in the Diocese of Providence since 2003 in various capacities and is currently the director of the Office of Outreach and prevention.

“The responsibility of developing the criteria to determine who should be on that list was my responsibility. I established it with some input and assistance from Dr. Mike Hansen,” he said.

O’Brien said that task has not been an easy one, with paramount consideration given to protecting children.

“It’s been very difficult to balance this duty to speak for and vindicate the victims — who view the exposure of their abusers as part of their healing process — with an additional duty to protect those who may have been falsely accused or never had the opportunity to defend themselves against a single accusation because they were deceased,” he said.

The vast majority of the cases were investigated by O’Brien’s predecessor — a retired lieutenant of the Massachusetts State Police who served for 22 years as the diocese’s first director of the Office of Compliance, which was established in 1993, nearly 10 years before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

“I was not involved in the investigatory process and was therefore not present during any interviews,” O’Brien said, noting the primary means at his disposal for determining which members of the clergy should be on the list was his extensive review of case files and reports compiled by his predecessor.

Not being present for an interview and strictly reviewing statements and reports removes all the additional context important in a thorough investigation, he noted.

The absence from the list of an accused member of the clergy does not mean an allegation against them is false, he noted. If the available and developed evidence was not strong enough to meet the standard of “credibly accused,” O’Brien did not assign the priest or deacon to the list, which is considered a working document that could be updated should new information become available.

Bishop Tobin emphasized that while the fact that a name does appear on the list does not necessarily mean that the individual is guilty of having committed sexual abuse, unless the allegation has been proven otherwise or admitted, members of the local Church have a right to know in the interest of transparency how their diocese is seeking to promote safety, justice and healing amid a worldwide crisis.

He affirmed that every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor, credible or not, is reported to civil authorities and is subject to the canonical requirements of the Church, while showing his support for the vast majority of clerics who have remained true to their calling and have never engaged in such abuse.

“In listing the names of clerics credibly abused of sexual abuse of minors, it is important to state that the overwhelming majority of clerics — priests and deacons — have served God and the Church very faithfully over the years, with enormous fidelity, generosity, compassion and care,” the bishop said.

“This is a difficult time for them as well. We are proud of our priests and deacons, we pray for them and we renew our wholehearted support and personal appreciation for all the good they do every day.”

To view the list, please visit the Diocese of Providence website at

www.dioceseofprovidence.org.