AG Rutledge to work with state Catholic Diocese to investigate church abuse allegations in Arkansas

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 1,301 views 

Following the sway of top prosecutors in other states, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Monday (Sept. 10) she intends to coordinate with the Diocese of Little Rock to review and investigate allegations of abuse within the Catholic Church across the state.

“The Attorney General will not tolerate abuse and will work with local prosecutors and the Catholic diocese to address any issues in Arkansas,” said Amanda Priest, spokesman for the state Attorney General’s office. “Attorney General Rutledge encourages Arkansans with information to contact the Attorney General’s office or a local prosecutor.”

Rutledge’s office issued its brief statement hours after Bishop Anthony Taylor released a list of alleged abuse cases and offered a long and effusive apology for the abuse scandals that have cast a pall over the entire Catholic Church and led several state attorneys general to launch independent probes, starting with New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s decision last week to issue subpoenas seeking information from every diocese in that state.

Taylor said the list released by the Little Rock diocese, which oversees the Catholic faith across the state of Arkansas, includes clergy who at some time served in Arkansas and who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse.

“In the wake of the recent scandals in the Church, I have decided to provide an accounting of cases here in Arkansas and how these allegations have been handled locally — because it is simply the right thing to do,” said Bishop Taylor. “This list is being published in the interest of transparency and to bring the truth into the light. It is my hope that these disclosures might bring healing to the victims and their families and encourage as-yet unknown victims to come forward.

“In my own name and in the name of the Church, I would like to apologize to all victims for the abuse you have suffered and for the way that Church leadership has sometimes failed you in the past. I am committed to doing everything in my power to ensure that this never happens again,” said Arkansas’ top Catholic leader.

Taylor said his office will continue to examine its files and conduct additional investigations so that the Church will know going forward that all clergy abuse cases have been identified and objectively reviewed. He said his office has not only reached out to Rutledge, but has also arranged for an independent review of all clergy personnel files and other relevant information by Hudson, Ohio-based Kinsale Management Consulting, an independent investigative firm that specializes in such work.

“As we consider this list of names and experience the shock of knowing that these priests preyed on so many victims, we need also to honor the courage of those who have come forward to share the most painful experiences of their entire life,” Taylor continued. “My heart goes out to all who carry deep wounds of this sort. It often takes years for victims of trauma to come to terms with the abuse they have suffered and ask for help. It takes much courage to make this admission and it takes trust. And trust is something that gets twisted and manipulated by the abuser, as well as by the institutions that helped protect the abuser.

“So stepping forward is that much more difficult and will not occur until the victim feels safe and is confident that he or she will be heard. And that is the task before the Church today. Safe environment means not only a place where no one will be abused going forward, it also means creating a safe place where those who have been abused in the past can find understanding, healing and hope.”

Taylor said the Arkansas Diocese is releasing two lists of offenders from the Church’s own initial internal review that was completed in consultation with the Diocesan Review Board, which advises the bishop on sexual abuse allegations against minors. The first list includes priests against whom credible allegations have been substantiated, either through their own admission or proven by means of a thorough investigation by the Diocese of Little Rock. None of these men have been in active ministry since the implementation of policies in 2002, he said.

They include:

Donald Althoff — Left ministry in 1995. Served 1982-1995. 1 known victim.

Joseph Correnti — Served 1972-2002. 2 known victims. Admitted guilt in a general way in response to a question in 2002 the day before his suicide, though in the absence of any specific allegation and without revealing the names of any of his victims. Direct allegations against him were not received until 2014.

Nicholas Fuhrmann, OSB — Removed and barred from active ministry and retired to Subiaco Abbey in 2002. Served in Arkansas 1980-1981 and 1994-2002. 8 known victims.

Paul Haas — Died 1978. Served in Arkansas 1964-1965. No known victims in Arkansas, but multiple victims in Tennessee.

Anthony McKay, CSSp — Dismissed from the priesthood and religious life in 2004. Died 2015. Served in Arkansas 1991-2001. No known victims in Arkansas, multiple victims elsewhere.

Timothy Sugrue, SM — Dismissed from the priesthood and religious life in 2005. Military chaplain in Blytheville, 1978-1979. 1 known victim.

Robert Torres — Removed from ministry in 1994. Served 1966-1994. 5 known victims.

Patrick Walsh, MSC — Died 2011. Removed from ministry in 2004. Served 1976-1987. 1 known victim.

The second list includes priests about whom unsubstantiated though credible allegations of abuse of a minor have been received. These may be unsubstantiated because the accused was deceased at the time that the allegation was made, or because there is not enough information on file to substantiate the allegation. However, the Arkansas Diocese said it considers the allegations to be credible and is offering or has offered assistance to their known victims. They include:

Robert Dagwell — Died 1997. Removed from ministry in 1986. Served in Arkansas 1954-1986. Specific number of victims unknown.

John McDaniel — Died 1974. Served 1955-1974. 3 known victims.

Edward Mooney — Died 2009, left ministry in 1971. Served 1949-1971. 2 known victims.

Francis Zimmerer, OSB — Died 1984, from Subiaco Abbey. Served 1932-1983. No known victims in Arkansas, 3 known victims in Texas.

Anthony said the Catholic Church will aid all victims. He added that the list will be posted on the Diocese’s website along with additional information regarding the cleric. The site will be updated upon the conclusion of Kinsale Management Consulting’s independent investigation of the Church’s files.

“Despite our best efforts, we know there may be some inaccuracies at this time,” Anthony said, adding that “as context for what we currently know: Over the course of the last 70 years, approximately 700 priests have served for varying lengths of time in Arkansas. Of those, 12 have been credibly accused of the sexual abuse of minors, and 9 of those abused minors while serving in Arkansas.”

Anthony also noted that most cases appear to have involved fondling, but a few cases were more serious. “While it is no excuse, it is important for our faithful to know that none of these offenses occurred later than the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002,” he said. “I should add that during these last 70 years there have been other priests who have left ministry for personal reasons or have been dismissed from ministry for reasons having nothing to do with the abuse of minors — for instance, misconduct with adults — and should not be treated as such. Moreover, over the course of these years we have investigated complaints of other imprudent acts which, at least based on what we currently know, did not rise to the level of sexual abuse.”

Although his ministry is largely devoted to Catholics as bishop, Taylor also has a responsibility to care for all Christian faithful in need of pastoral guidance, for those who may have drifted from the faith, and for those who are the weakest and most vulnerable in society. These responsibilities are carried out through various apostolates and ministries including Catholic charities; Christopher Homes, charismatic renewal, evangelism, education and faith formation, family, campus and youth ministries, and Hispanic, Korean and Vietnamese ministries.

On Saturday, Pope Francis implored Catholic bishops across the globe to reject all forms of abuse and work together to purge the clergy cover-up culture that was unveiled during the church’s first sexual abuse crisis in 2002.

According to U.S. Catholic Church’s Leadership Roundtable, which was formed by law, religious and ordained clergy leaders after the 2002 crisis, the abuse and cover-ups revealed within the church over the past few weeks has further deepened the crisis of trust.

“The Catholic Church in the United States, and elsewhere, is at a precipice,” the leadership council said in a statement. “These leadership and management failures have damaged the lives of abuse survivors and their communities, fractured the trust of the laity, affected the morale of lay and ordained Church leaders, further alienated the relationship of young people with the Church, and compromised the Catholic voice of moral authority in the public square.”

In early August, a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed years of child sexual abuse in that state’s six dioceses where more than 300 so-called “predator priests” were accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims dating back to 1947.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro called it the grand jury probe the “largest, most comprehensive report into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church ever produced in the United States.” Shapiro is pushing for the courts to release an unredacted version of the lengthy jury report, which includes hard-to-read details of rape, child molestation and alcohol and drug abuse.

Earlier this summer, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was removed from active ministry and subsequently resigned following a series of sexual misconduct allegations and details of financial settlements with priest who accused the former Archbishop of Newark and Washington, D.C., of abuse.

To see Taylor’s statement and the Arkansas diocese’s more detail clergy disclosure list, click here.

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