Facing pressure from state investigators and greater calls for transparency from the faithful, New Jersey's five Roman Catholic dioceses released the names Wednesday 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, had long since died or had the accusations against them publicly aired. 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: 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.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Sun Herald
"I wish to express my genuine sorrow to the victims and their families who were so profoundly betrayed," said Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, Newark's current archbishop, in a statement. "On behalf of the Church, I beg your forgiveness. You have my solemn promise of prayers and support as you continue on your healing journey."
Sullivan, in his own statement, said he expected the release of names 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 join those in nearly two dozen other states that have named suspected abusers 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 spawned similar probes from authorities in other states including New Jersey, where Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal formed a statewide task force to investigate the matter last fall.
Grewal described the dioceses' move Wednesday as a "positive first step toward transparency and accountability" but he vowed in a statement to continue his office's efforts.
"No institution or individual is immune from accountability," he said in a statement. "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. Yet none of them included details about the specific allegations or when the priests' purported misconduct was alleged to have occurred.
Religious order priests – such as the Jesuits, who released their own list of accused clergy in December – were omitted.
Sullivan, the Camden bishop, maintained that his diocese and bishops across the country had made great strides in both ensuring the protection of children and punishing abusive priests since the clergy sex abuse crisis ignited in Boston 17 years ago.
As evidence of their progress, he noted that the last report of abuse of a minor deemed credible by the diocese occurred in 1995 and touted the victim compensation program New Jersey's Catholic dioceses announced this week.
"This is not in any way to excuse what had happened – and it certainly is not to excuse the failings of bishops and other leaders in the church at that time," he said, adding that "this diocese has done all in its power to make our schools, parishes and ministries safe havens for everyone and it will continue to do so."