'We're not going to hide:' Alaska archbishop fights clergy sex abuse
Anchorage's archbishop, who has emerged as one of the few heroes in a major newspaper story on bishops' lack of oversight regarding clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, is continuing his inquiries in Alaska.
An independent commission is currently examining church personnel files for the past half-century in Anchorage, after Archbishop Paul Etienne asked it to do so a few weeks ago.
This isn't the first time Etienne has sought justice within the church.
A Saturday story, jointly reported by the Philadelphia Enquirer and the Boston Globe, claims that more than 130 U.S. bishops have been accused of failing to adequately respond to sexual misconduct in their dioceses.
According to the story, Etienne was the bishop of Wyoming starting in 2009. While there he learned that his predecessor, Bishop Joseph Hart, was accused of sexually abusing boys.
The newspapers said that in 2010 Etienne wrote to the Vatican expressing his concerns about Hart, who was accused of assaulting boys on weekend trips among other forms of misconduct.
"We are aware, with the problem we've had with governance, the reality that some bishops haven't handled these accusations, have not dealt with victims appropriately," Etienne said during a Monday interview in Anchorage. "And that part we, as bishops, have to address."
Ultimately, Etienne said, the success of U.S. bishops in cleaning house will depend on a higher power.
"These things needed to be reviewed by what we call in the church is the competent authority," Etienne said. "And the competent authority to review bishops is ultimately the Holy Father and his delegated offices in Rome."
Two years after Etienne complained about Hart in Wyoming, the newspapers said, then-Pope Benedict authorized a preliminary investigation but Etienne didn't hear anything else.
In 2015, just as Etienne was about to move to Anchorage, he barred Hart from public ministry in Cheyenne. The case against Hart was later closed due to "inconclusive evidence."
Etienne says a lack of manpower at the Vatican has slowed the church's investigative process.
"Since the abuse crisis came to our attention in 2002, many cases have been sent to Rome for their judgment in those cases and they just don't have the staff to deal with the volume of work that they have," Etienne said.
New accusations have came forward against Hart, according to the Enquirer and Globe. The case involving him has been reopened in Wyoming, which has no statute of limitations on the crimes of which he is accused.
"I am relieved that it is moving forward as much for the sake for the local church there," Etienne said. "Those people have long wanted to put this behind them. I think the victims have longed for the church to make a decision and to take action."
That's why Etienne is pushing for complete transparency for the Archdiocese of Anchorage. He says it's not due to new victims of abuse in Alaska, but instead reflects what's happening in states like Pennsylvania, where a grand jury recently found the church had covered up hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse.
"We want people to know we're not going to hide behind closed doors," Etienne said. "We want people to know that we do report these allegations to law enforcement and we do follow our procedures, and when credible accusations are established proper actions will be taken to restrict those individuals from ministry."
Etienne says the church has been working on ways to help.
"In these last 15 years the safe environment training we have put in place and the reporting procedures we have put in place has made a remarkable difference in the number of cases," Etienne said. "We are seeing currently the majority of the cases that are still in the attention of the public eye today are historical cases. There is much good that has been done in the last 15 years in regards on how the church is responding to cases of sexual misconduct, of the clergy in particularly."
Etienne says he wants the commission to give him a report with the names of anyone who faces credible allegations of abuse. He has every intention of making those names public.
Probes have already been launched by officials in Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Virginia.
Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.
YOU MAY ALSO BE INTERESTED IN: