FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) – Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fall River wrote a letter to parishioners last January announcing the church had hired a former FBI agent to review allegations of sexual abuse against minors dating back to the 1950s.
The plan, he wrote, was to complete the review by spring of last year, and produce a list of credibly accused clergy members, following what a growing number of dioceses – including Providence – have already done across the country.
“I wish that this information could be made available sooner; yet it takes time and diligence to compile a list that is accurate and complete,” da Cunha wrote at the time.
Fast forward one year, and there’s still no list. And while church officials told Target 12 the diocese remains committed to producing the list, they offered no timetable for completion.
“Work is now ongoing as a follow-up to this external review to prepare for the eventual publication of the list,” diocese spokesperson John Kearns said in a statement. “It takes time and diligence to compile a list that is accurate and thorough.”
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence in July released its list of 50 priests and clergymen it said were “credibly accused” of sexual abusing minors since the 1950s, revealing more than a dozen clergymen who had never been publicly accused in the past.
In Fall River, da Cunha initially said he didn’t expect the diocese’s list to include many surprises, adding most of the names had already been reported by media.
But the review has already produced new revelations.
In November, da Cunha announced two priests – Father Richard Degagne and Father Daniel Lacroix – were placed on administrative leave due to accusations of misconduct. The decision was based on information gathered during the review. The two priests have denied the alleged misconduct.
“Nothing is more important than the welfare of survivors, children and our community at large,” da Cunha said at the time.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a nonprofit also known as SNAP, is tracking the release of names across the country. SNAP President Tim Lennon shared a working paper with Target 12, saying the lists are long overdue.
“Church officials should have released these names a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago,” he wrote. “Why were they hiding these predators?”
Currently, there are 34 publicly accused priests from the Fall River diocese listed on Bishop-Accountability.org, a website that tracks the Catholic abuse crisis nationwide using legal documents, depositions and media reports.
Three of the clergymen listed have been convicted and two others have settled past claims in court, according to the website.
In addition to reviewing the personnel files, Kearns said the church has taken steps to strengthen its child-protective programs and its system for handling allegations of abuse.
“This has included the restructuring of staff positions, the hiring of a social worker to serve as a victim assistance coordinator, and the updating and expansion of diocesan policies,” Kearns said.
SNAP, along with others closely watching the church’s response to abuse, is critical of the Catholic church’s use of “credible accusation,” pointing out that it’s a self-defined term.
“It has not legal meaning,” Lennon wrote. “It can mean something different to every bishop.”
The nonprofit has called on dioceses to release more comprehensive information related to the past allegations, including the names of all clergy members, monks, bishops and nuns, involved with abuse allegations. The group also looks for descriptions of the accusations and the present status and location of the accused.
“Naming names can help a victim by providing a public acknowledgement of an abuser,” Lennon wrote. “It can provide an opportunity for a victim to tell a family member, a close friend, a counselor. It can help a victim understand that they are not alone, that it is not their fault.”
Anyone with information or concerns regarding any past or present member of the Diocese is urged to contact the district attorneys for Bristol County or the Cape and Islands.