Facing pressure from state investigators and calls for greater transparency from the faithful, New Jersey’s five Roman Catholic dioceses on Wednesday released the names of nearly 190 priests who they said had been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors over decades.
The Diocese of Camden identified 56 accused clergy members in its files – most of whom, Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan noted, have long since died or had the accusations against them publicly aired. Those still living included a priest ousted from Deptford who found a second career as a family counselor and a Collingswood cleric who abruptly resigned last month — 15 years after a diocesan review board found the allegations against him to be credible.
In Trenton, 30 priests were named in incidents mostly from the 1970s and ‘80s.
And in Newark, where officials issued a list of 63 clerics, one name stood out above all: Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former head of that archdiocese, whose removal from public ministry in June sparked a resurgence of the clergy sex-abuse crisis across the United States.
Nearly all of the priests named Wednesday had been removed from ministry years ago and the accusations against them reported to law enforcement, the dioceses said.
“I wish to express my genuine sorrow to the victims and their families who were so profoundly betrayed,” Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, Newark’s current archbishop, said in a statement. “On behalf of the church, I beg your forgiveness.”
Sullivan, in his own statement, said he expected the release would prompt other abuse victims to come forward.
“The darkest stain on the Catholic Church in the last century was the sexual abuse of minors by priests,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have all learned that this ‘filth,'” as Pope Benedict correctly called it, was more pervasive than anyone imagined or even thought possible.”
In opening their files, New Jersey’s five dioceses joined those in nearly two dozen other states that had already named suspected abusers — including the two dioceses of Virginia, which also identified 58 accused priests of their own on Wednesday. The public disclosures emerged in the wake of last year’s landmark grand jury report in Pennsylvania, which implicated roughly 300 priests in decades of sexual abuse involving more than 1,000 victims.
That investigation has spawned similar probes from authorities across the U.S. and sparked new recognition within the Catholic hierarchy that the church must do more to improve accountability and transparency within in its ranks.
Pope Francis has called top church leaders from around the world to a Vatican summit next week aimed at defining a global response to the crisis.
In New Jersey, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, who formed a task force last fall aimed at investigating the state’s dioceses and their handling of sexual abuse, vowed that his investigation would continue. He described the dioceses’ move Wednesday as a “positive first step toward transparency and accountability.”
“No institution or individual is immune from accountability,” he said. “We anticipate taking criminal action wherever appropriate and releasing comprehensive information at the conclusion of our investigation.”
Sexual-abuse survivors and their advocates also expressed skepticism.
“Given the vast number of priests named as sexual abusers and the span of time in which the sexual abuse took place, it is fair to state that the archdiocese and dioceses in New Jersey have forgotten how to be moral and kind with children,” said Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney who has represented accusers of priests in New Jersey.
Church officials compiled the lists released Wednesday through a review of files dating back decades in each of the five dioceses. None of them included details about the specific allegations or when the priests’ purported misconduct was alleged to have occurred.
The lists did not include religious-order priests, such as the Jesuits, who released their own list of accused clergy in December.
In the Camden Diocese, a majority of the priests — 29 of the 56 — were ordained in the 1960s and were accused of misconduct that allegedly occurred in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The oldest was born in 1889 and ordained in 1915.
Twenty-five of the priests worked at a school during their ministry, including 11 who worked at Camden Catholic High School.
The list also contained names of several clerics whose alleged misdeeds had previously gained widespread media attention. They included:
The Rev. Edward Igle, who was removed from ministry in 2000, after he was accused of sexually abusing two teens in the ‘70s at churches in Deptford and West Berlin. He denied the allegations and went on to open a family counseling practice in South Jersey, where he continues to work with children.
The Rev. John D. Bohrer, who remained in ministry for 15 years after a diocesan review board found he had been credibly accused of abusing a teen at a Cherry Hill parish in the ‘80s. Bohrer retired last month after the allegations against him resurfaced during preparation of the list released this week.
Msgr. Augustine J. Seidenburg, now dead, who was accused of fondling five girls – all sisters and cousins – while they sat on his lap during confession at St. Thomas Church in Brigantine and Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Cape May.
And brothers the Rev. Dennis J. Rigney and Msgr. Philip T. Rigney. The former was accused of molesting two brothers who attended St. Pius X Church in Cherry Hill in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The latter faced allegations of assaulting two brothers hundreds of times in the ‘70s and ‘80s as well as raping a teenage runaway he had invited to live with him at St. Joseph’s Pro-Cathedral in Camden. Both men are now deceased.
In his statement Wednesday, Sullivan said that none of the men on the list reflected the character of the vast majority of diocesan priests.
He added: “These 56 priests are a small percentage of the more than 800 who have faithfully served the people of South Jersey since the diocese was founded in 1937.”
READ CAMDEN’S LIST OF CREDIBLY ACCUSED PRIESTS: