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‘Stunned and shaken’: Sacramento diocese list of accused priests insufficient, victims say

Sex abuse victims and advocates are unmoved by the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento’s disclosure of 46 clergy members who were accused of sexually abusing more than 100 people, arguing the release of the list Tuesday is too little, too late.

The diocese found 44 priests and two deacons in the Sacramento area had been credibly accused of sexually abusing roughly 130 children and adults in the last seven decades. Bishop Jaime Soto told The Sacramento Bee on Monday, “it speaks to the cultural pathology of how we allowed this to happen” and “there was no excuse for it.”

David Clohessy, the former executive director at the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, criticized Soto for trying to “minimize the crisis and fixate on the past while essentially ignoring the real issue which is danger in the present.”

“I just keep shaking my head and thinking, why didn’t Soto do this his first week or month on the job, and how many kids have been hurt needlessly as a result?” Clohessy said.

The diocese should have released the names of priests accused of sexual abuse as cases were corroborated, said Northern California leader for SNAP Joey Piscitelli. Doing so would have given victims more flexibility in pursuing legal action, he said.

“Today these names prove they kept names secret and hidden from the public,” Piscitelli said. “But now the statute of limitations have run out on these cases, and that’s because the diocese enabled them to.”

Advocates are also concerned that the list lacked certain information, such as the current whereabouts of those named, which Clohessy described as “incredibly irresponsible.” Some dioceses, such as the Catholic Diocese of Erie in Pennsylvania, have released the current or last known locations of living clergy accused of abuse or other inappropriate behavior.

“Soto should be taking out full-page newspaper ads in the counties where his priests are still around kids,” he said.

Clohessy hopes the release of the list will push victims and “every single person who saw abuse no matter how long ago, no matter how seemingly slight “ to call their local police department and the California attorney general’s office, which is collecting complaints of clergy abuse.

Diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery said “virtually everyone on this list has been reported to law enforcement in one form or another” prior to the list’s publication.

Advocates and lawyers are also concerned that the diocese’s disclosure did not include instances of church leaders covering up child sexual abuse. Last summer, an explosive, nearly 900-page Pennsylvania grand jury report found church leaders shielded more than 300 priests from scrutiny.

It is unclear whether Attorney General Xavier Becerra will convene a similar investigation, as some are calling for.

“The last thing in the world that various dioceses want at this point is local attorneys general sticking their nose in the files within the respective diocese,” said Sacramento-based lawyer Joseph George. “That’s why they’re coming out now (with the list), belatedly in Sacramento.”

Some victims say that the list fails to paint a comprehensive picture of abuse within the Catholic community.

William Farrington was a former swim coach at Jesuit High School who allegedly abused Kurt Hoffmann when he was a freshman in 1987.

Farrington was not named in the diocese’s list, but appeared on a separate list released by the Jesuit West Province last year of credibly accused Jesuits.

“This has been a 30-year saga for me to try to get justice and to make sure that no other kids experience what I did as a 14-year-old kid,” Hoffmann said. “I’m glad to see that now there’s this transparency or attempt at transparency, but why was my abuser not on this list? That’s my million-dollar question.”

Eckery said Farrington did not appear on the diocese list because he was not an ordained clergyman in the diocese but a religious brother in the Jesuit religious order. “We have as much authority over Farrington ... as a random employee at a Catholic hospital,” he said.

“The abuse that was committed by priests (and deacons and bishops) in Sacramento was what we’re addressing,” Eckery said. “And that’s what we did.”

Other victims say they were blindsided by the release of the list, after years of the diocese apparently ignoring their concerns.

Laureen Vonnegut was 10 years old when she was abused by Andrew Coffey. She reported the abuse in 2002 because she “decided it was my duty as a human being to try and protect future victims,” according to a letter she sent to the diocese Tuesday.

Four years after her claim was submitted and the case exceeded the statute of limitations, the diocese sent her a letter saying it “could take the matter no further,” she said. Coffey is among more than a dozen priests on the diocese list that had not previously been publicly accused.

“This was the end of the trail until today,” Vonnegut wrote. “After 17 years, this is the first I have heard that anyone from the diocese believed me. I am stunned and shaken and furious.”

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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