The 40 priests named by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus as credibly accused of sexually abusing minors have served at more than two-thirds of the diocese’s parishes, according to an analysis of priest assignment records by The Dispatch.
Many of the priests, most of whom were ordained between 1932 and 1980, moved around several times in their careers, serving at an average of nine places per priest. Together, they served in more than 70 of the diocese’s 105 parishes.
One priest, the Rev. Frederick A. Loyd, was assigned to more than 15 locations throughout the Columbus Diocese, including hospitals and parishes, during his career of about 36 years.
The only publicly known accusation against Loyd dates to 1985, when he was accused of sexually abusing a minor while working at St. Francis de Sales Church in Newark. He was ordained in 1970 and removed from the priesthood in 2008. Loyd, who lives in Columbus, declined to comment when reached by The Dispatch last week.
It is standard for priests to serve a parish for six years before their term is either extended for another six years or they move to another parish, said the Rev. Michael Lumpe, the diocese’s vicar for priests.
>>Read more: Victims of abusive priests won’t likely see justice, experts say
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, a national coordinating and guiding body for the church, has guidelines that priests will serve six years at each of their assignments, although they can serve a parish for longer.
The Dispatch used a collection of the Official Catholic Directory, a reference guide published yearly by P.J. Kenedy & Sons that lists clergy assignments in the United States, to record the assignment history of each priest on the diocese’s list of accused priests. Locally, there are incomplete collections of the directories at the Pontifical College Josephinum’s library, Ohio State University’s library and the Ohio History Connection.
Many of the priests on the abuse list served parishes for one or two years before being moved; the Official Catholic Directory does not give reasons for the moves.
On March 1, the Columbus Diocese released a list of 34 priests who, it said, had been “credibly accused” of abusing minors sometime during the diocese’s 150-year history. The most recent credible claim of abuse occurred in 1992, according to the diocese. Since the initial list was released, six priests’ names have been added, bringing the total to 40.
Using the directories and the sexual-abuse list, The Dispatch created an online searchable database that includes the names of the accused priests, the year they were ordained, their status in the Catholic Church, where they were assigned and when, and available details about the allegations against them. It can be found at dispatch.com/priestdatabase.
The 40 priests on the list have had an average of nine assignments in 32 years on the job, the data analysis showed.
The reason that some priests have had so many assignments has been well-documented by investigators and journalists looking into priest sexual abuse across the country. Research, most notably documented by The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” investigation team published in 2002, shows that dioceses nationwide have shuffled troublesome, abusive priests from parish to parish to hide them and their misdeeds.
Dioceses often sent accused priests for treatment or counseling before giving them a new assignment.
It was a “proven method of the era” in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, said Lumpe, who also is rector at St. Joseph Cathedral, Downtown.
“Obviously, we know better as a church now,” Lumpe said. “Now, we’d never do that.”
>>Read more: Ohio’s statute of limitations for sex crimes among worst in nation, experts say
Today, priests who have been accused are suspended while they undergo a church investigation to decide whether the allegation is credible, Monsignor Stephan Moloney, vicar for priests and victim assistance coordinator of the Columbus Diocese, said in March. If the accusation is found to be credible, the priest is removed from ministry.
As soon as Moloney receives an allegation, he said, he reports it to law-enforcement officials, and their investigations usually run concurrently. Clergy members in Ohio also are “mandated reporters,” meaning they are required by state law to report suspicions of abuse, but there are exceptions. Priests, for instance, aren’t required to divulge information received during confession.
Being moved around from assignment to assignment is the first red flag marking a potentially abusive priest, said Thomas Doyle, a former priest who now serves as an expert witness in many cases of alleged sexual abuse by priests.
“They silently transfer priests,” said Doyle, who lives in northern Virginia. “When you see them moving around a lot, that’s one way of dodging the people.”
Lumpe said a priest might leave a parish for a variety of reasons before his six-year term is up, including health issues, a desire to serve another parish, or not being a good fit. No matter the situation, the moves are always made in consultation with the bishop, he said.
The publisher of the Catholic directory receives information from dioceses about the priests serving within their boundaries, said Terry McKiernan, co-president of Bishop Accountability, a national nonprofit group that tracks allegations of abuse by Catholic officials and publishes it on its website. He and Doyle said some dioceses could have left out details in the information they sent, or used code words such as “sick leave,” “leave of absence” or “sabbatical” to disguise a priest’s location. However, there is no evidence the Columbus diocese did this.
“If a priest is sent away for treatment, that treatment center is never listed in the Catholic directory,” McKiernan said.
Other times, Doyle said, dioceses will say that an abusive priest has a problem with alcohol or drugs or a behavioral health condition such as depression or schizophrenia to protect his reputation and allow him to reenter service if he completes treatment.
>>Read more: Pope Francis’ edict to have little effect on how US priests, nuns report sex abuse
There also can be lapses in tracking a priest’s whereabouts through the directories, McKiernan said.
“They can just disappear from the directory,” he said. “I’ve seen priests vanish for 15 years.”
About 11 priests on the Diocese of Columbus list had no recorded whereabouts for at least a year during their careers; 14 were listed as absent or on leave at some point, and five were on special assignment.
When asked about how it categorizes priests’ leave and whether a priest had ever been moved or sent to a treatment center after sexually abusing minors, the diocese responded with a prepared statement that it had previously supplied.
“The list of credibly accused clergy published by the Diocese of Columbus was based upon an extensive review of files of nearly 2,000 clergy who served in the Diocese since its beginning in 1868,” diocesan spokesman George Jones said in the statement. “The Diocese has since supplemented that list based upon new information provided to the Diocese, and the Diocese will continue to update the list as new information becomes available.”
McKiernan said another method for disguising abuse by priests is the changing of priests’ names or using different spellings during a priest’s career.
The Columbus Diocese listed the late Aaron J. Cote as one of the priests who had been credibly accused. But the Official Catholic Directory identifies Cote as “Aaron Joseph” during the beginning of his career when he served locally. Cote, who served in the diocese for a few years in the late 1980s, was accused in 2005 of abusing a teenage boy when he was pastor at Holy Trinity Church in Somerset in Perry County.
The Columbus Diocese did not note any name changes in the list it made public, and Jones said the diocese listed all names as they appear in its records.
The shuffling of abusive priests also often includes placing them outside the diocese in which they were ordained, McKiernan said. It’s “fairly common” with abusive priests “that you’ll find at least one time in their career where they were sent away,” he said.
>>Read more: See complete coverage. Catholic secrecy: Investigating priest sexual abuse in Columbus
Although it has been documented that most abusive priests are moved around in dioceses nationwide to conceal their abuse, others are left at one parish for years, abusing children in the same place, said Judy Jones, Midwest regional leader with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
The late Monsignor Robert A. Brown served for a few years in the Columbus Diocese before moving to the Steubenville Diocese when the two dioceses split in the 1940s. Brown was at a church in the Steubenville Diocese, in eastern Ohio, for more than 20 years, according to his assignment history, despite having abused children earlier in his career, Jones said.
In 2005, she publicly accused Brown of abusing her brother in the 1960s when he was 16. In August 2006, the Steubenville Diocese said it had a credible allegation against Brown from the 1970s, according to news reports on the Bishop Accountability’s website. He had retired in 1984 and died in 1991.
It happens more often than people realize, said Konrad Kircher, a Lebanon lawyer who frequently handles sexual abuse cases and is representing a client in one against the Columbus Diocese.
Kircher said two prolific abusers in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati cases that he pursued years ago were “icons” and stayed at the same assignment for years.
“Nobody would confess to what happened,” he said.
Kircher said he obtained access to diocesan files on one priest, who was accused by 37 people of abusing them, and he found a letter from the chancellor urging the archbishop to conceal the abuse in the diocese.
“They knew this guy was bad,” Kircher said. “They didn’t try to move him; they tried to control him, and it didn’t work.”
To read more coverage about priest sexual abuse in Columbus, visit dispatch.com/catholicsecrecy.