Earlier this month, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence released a list of priests and clergy members found to have been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing children since 1950.
It represented an important step forward for survivors of abuse, as well as for the broader community. As Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin said, acknowledging these cases through the recent disclosure represented a “difficult but necessary moment in the life of our diocesan church.”
In terms of both transparency and accountability, however, much more work remains to be done. Now, it is poised to proceed.
Attorney General Peter F. Neronha last week announced a memorandum of understanding has been reached with the Diocese granting his office and Rhode Island State Police with access to “all complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy dating back to 1950 – whether deemed credible by the Diocese or not.”
According to a statement from Neronha’s office, a forthcoming review of that nearly 70-year trove of documentation will have multiple objectives, including identifying any prosecutable cases; ensuring no “credibly accused” clergy members are still active in the ministry; determining how the Diocese responded to reports of child sexual abuse in the past; and providing “input into improvements of the Diocese’s current policies and procedures for preventing and responding to allegations of child sexual abuse.”
“While this voluntary, additional disclosure by the Diocese is an important step forward in our review, much additional work remains,” Neronha said in the statement. “We will not hesitate to take any additional steps that may prove necessary to fully determine the scope of misconduct here and take appropriate action. It is my intention to be as transparent as possible regarding our findings, within the limits of current Rhode Island law.”
The statement from Neronha’s office further indicates that while the memorandum of understanding “provides for confidential and privileged information to be protected as appropriate, it will not serve as a barrier for [prosecutors and law enforcement] to obtain any information they need for their review and does not preclude the Office from using compulsory process down the road.”
We are glad the Diocese has entered into this agreement, and we applaud Neronha, his staff and Rhode Island State Police for pursuing such a vital undertaking.
The process of confronting decades of sexual abuse within the church has been, and will continue to be, deeply painful. So many lives have been so inexorably altered. So much hurt and betrayal and mistrust has been sewn across generations of Rhode Islanders.
But through the fullest possible accounting of what transpired, we hope that justice may be served and positive change might be realized.
Above all else, we must not forget the victims of abuse. Neronha’s statement encourages victims to contact Rhode Island State Police Detective Jonathan Elliott at 444-1372, and additionally directs them to the support line for Day One – which provides victims with clinical support and advocacy services – at 421-4100, ext. 444, or firstname.lastname@example.org.