1,700 Catholic Priests Accused Of Sex Crimes Are Living Openly, Working In School, Even Counseling Victims

Several have been accused of crimes against children after being defrocked.

A catholic priest celebrates mass
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Several have been accused of crimes against children after being defrocked.

Nearly 1,700 former Catholic Priests, deacons, monks, and laypeople, forced out of their jobs due to credible allegations of sexual abuse against children but never criminally charged, are now living openly and with little to no canonical or criminal oversight, The Associated Press reports. Some have gone on to commit other crimes against children, for which they were ultimately criminally prosecuted.

It’s been decades since the allegations of a widespread problem of Catholic clergy (and in some cases, laypeople) sexually abusing children first gained widespread media attention. In the early days of the scandal, the Church was accused of covering up the abuse, by shuffling the priests from job to job, and not reporting their crimes to law enforcement.

Ordinarily, when someone is convicted of a sex crime, particularly a sex crime against children, that person is closely monitored after being released from prison. They must report comings and goings to parole officers, in many cases must register as sex offenders, and are limited to what jobs they can have in the community.

But in the case of these men, since there were no criminal charges, there is little to nothing law enforcement can do to keep an eye on them. The Church, for its part, seems to have taken a somewhat casual attitude towards monitoring them, as the facts below can attest.

Nearly 1,700 such men, against whom the Church found credible evidence of sexual crimes against children, are now living and working with little to no oversight from law enforcement or the church.

Some — 168 — are still working or volunteering in Catholic churches. Of those, 43 are still ministering in Catholic churches or as pastors in other Christian denominations, 33 went to work in Catholic churches overseas, and 11 served in administrative roles in the Catholic Church.

a statue of a catholic saint
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Dozens have obtained licenses allowing them to work in jobs that could put them into close contact with children, such as teaching or social work. Some are in counseling fields, even, perhaps ironically, counseling victims of sexual abuse. One even got a job at Walt Disney World.

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Some have gone on to commit, and be criminally prosecuted for, subsequent crimes against children. Specifically, the analysis found that 65 were later convicted of crimes. One, for example, was convicted of sexually molesting a disabled boy and 13 were convicted of crimes related to child pornography. Three were convicted of indecent exposure while others have been convicted of non-sexual crimes, such as drunk driving or drug offenses.

Some strides are being made to keep better track of defrocked priests, but the processes are limited and localized. For example, in Detroit, defrocked priests must give monthly reports to a parole officer hired by the diocese. In Chicago, there’s a program that allows priests to receive treatment and “die a priest” as long as they agree to extremely intrusive monitoring — including of their cell phones — by a superior. Elsewhere, defrocked priests are shuffled off to nursing or retirement homes.

Meanwhile, many of the defrocked priests still receive health insurance and/or pensions from the Church.