Mississippi bishop: ‘Ruined lives’ in the midst of clergy sexual abuse

Bishop Joseph Kopacz speaks about the Diocese of Jackson, the release of names of priests it says have credibly accused of sexual abuse on the website, during a press conference in the parking lot of The Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. – A Catholic diocese in Mississippi on Tuesday released the names of 37 priests who it says still credibly accused of the sexual abuse of children.

Officials with the Diocese of Jackson, said that 30 of the clergy were accused of sexual abuse in the Mississippi river, and the others worked in the Mississippi diocese but were accused of abuse in the other member states.

The bishop of the diocese, Joseph Kopacz, publicly apologized Tuesday during a press conference outside a cathedral in the centre of Jackson.

“Any case of abuse represents shattered lives and damaged families and communities,” Kopacz said. “I hope that the release of this list will demonstrate a new level of transparency and a sincere desire to assist victims of sexual abuse as a our God of compassion and justice demands. My apologies to all the victims of abuse and their families and to the faithful who have been hurt by this scandal.”

The diocese published the list Tuesday on its website as part of the Catholic Church is the international monetary system with allegations of sexual abuse, which has spread all over the world.

The victims in the Jackson Diocese were boys and girls in the age from 5 to 17 years of age, chancellor, diocese of Mary Woodward said. Woodward said the cases date from 1939 to 1998, and none of the accused priests are still in active ministry.

Woodward said there are two additional cases in which clergymen whose names were not released Tuesday. One is on appeal. The other, still in research, there is a case of abuse that allegedly happened in 1961, but was only reported recently.

Woodward, members of an independent fitness review board, and retired bishops assessed 1400 files of the five bishops of the diocese from 1924 to this year, ” she said.

In some cases, psychologists “is treated, a priest, and deemed him safe to return to the ministry,” the diocese said in a message to the list on its website.

Any clergy member, employee or volunteer found to abuse minors from now on will be permanently removed from the ministry, the post said.

The diocese also said that the information provided about the history of abuse allegations to the Mississippi attorney general’s office in 2002, before the current attorney-general was elected. The diocese said it gave the attorney general a list of Monday.

Kopacz said in a letter released Monday that he is “really, deeply sorry” for the pain the list can cause.

“The crime of abuse of any kind is a sin, but the abuse of children and vulnerable adults is particularly shameful,” Kopacz wrote. “First and foremost, it is a sin against the innocent victims, but also a sin against the Church and our communities. It is a sin that cries out for justice.”

The bishop said he encourages everyone who is sexually abused by a clergy member or church employee to come forward. He wrote that the diocese has a statutory duty to report the cases to law enforcement, and “helping the victims find healing and wholeness, it is our moral duty.”

He also said the church is taking steps to prevent abuse, including the screening and training of employees and volunteers.

The Diocese of Jackson encompasses 65 of Mississippi’s 82 countries and has approximately 48,000 registered Catholics.

In January, the only other roman Catholic diocese in Mississippi, the Diocese of Biloxi, and the names of the three priests who it said had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct against minors since the diocese was founded in 1977. All three were banned by the ministry and the allegations were reported to the authorities, the diocese said. One was accused of in 2015 of misconduct with an adolescent boy in Laurel, and is serving a 10-year prison sentence. Another was accused of misconduct with an adolescent girl in Biloxi during the middle of the 1980s; and the third, with adolescent girls in Biloxi in 1989, the diocese said.

A grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania last year identified nearly 300 “predator priests” goes back nearly 70 years, and accused the Roman Catholic Church leaders of covering up the abuse. The Associated Press reported that in the last four months of 2018, Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States released the names of more than 1,000 priests and others accused of sexual abuse of children.

More information is released. In January, 14 Catholic dioceses in Texas identified 286 priests and others accused of sexual abuse of children.

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