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How to Use Our Database to Report on Accused Priests in Your Area

We published a searchable database of nearly 6,000 clergy members deemed credibly accused of abuse. Here’s how to do your own investigation.

The entrance to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. (Darren Hauck, special to ProPublica)

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For two decades, the names of Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse or misconduct trickled into the public sphere, largely through court proceedings, vocal survivors and news articles. That changed in 2018 after an explosive Pennsylvania grand jury report prompted scores of church leaders, many for the first time, to release lists containing the identities of clergy members in their jurisdiction against whom there were accusations they deemed credible.

ProPublica spent more than a year cataloging these lists. We published our database of more than 6,000 names — and a story explaining what information is still missing — in January.

Though the release of these lists is the largest step the U.S. church has yet made toward complete transparency, ProPublica found there was no coordination on a central standard for who should be on these lists and what information should be disclosed. The lack of central guidance has led to a web of lists that are incomplete, inconsistent and lack key details.

ProPublica has streamlined the disjointed disclosures into one central database. Here’s how journalists can use the new tool to report on credibly accused clergy:

If your local diocese or religious order hasn’t released a list: Make a list from other lists.

Just because your local diocese hasn’t released a list doesn’t mean you can’t do a story about it. There may, in fact, be clergy who served in your diocese who have been deemed credibly accused in other dioceses. Search for your state, city, diocese, school or local parish and see if you can find any overlap.

You can also do your own public records searches. Conduct a court records search for lawsuits against your church, look for clips quoting outspoken survivors and locate any internal church documents Catholic leaders may have released online. BishopAccountability.org gathers information from a wide range of sources beyond official lists. It can be a useful resource as you try to figure out who may be on an unreleased list.

Ask church leaders if they plan on releasing a list and ask when they expect to do so. Dozens of dioceses and religious orders have hired consultants, former law enforcement officers and outside legal counsel for assistance with their lists. Find out if your Catholic organization has enlisted outside help and dig in.

Many of the 41 dioceses that have yet to release a list have announced that they plan to publish one in the future, though some have long surpassed their initial deadlines.

If your diocese has released: Find out if they’re missing anyone.

Your local dioceses and orders might have released a list, but they may be missing names. Because there was no central set of standards from the Vatican or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops about who was to be included, it’s possible that some priests — accused in court filings, by other dioceses or otherwise — are not mentioned.

Some Catholic leaders explicitly say who they are excluding from lists of accused clergy. The Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska, for instance, has not named seminarians with credible accusations. The Diocese of Toledo, Ohio does not name deceased priests who were accused after they died.

Other dioceses lists provide no documentation about who they included and who’s missing.

Several categories of clergy members are frequently left off lists. At least three dozen lists exclude members of religious order who were accused within their jurisdiction. Similarly, your diocese may leave off extern priests, who came to serve from another diocese or country, and priests who died before accusations were reported.

You can use our database to search for your local parishes, schools, cities, states and diocese. These searches could surface clergy who were excluded from your diocese’s list but were accused elsewhere.

How does your diocese’s list stack up against others?

Every local Catholic leader decided what information they want to disclose about each accused clergy member. Some released the bare minimum details, like the Diocese of Orlando, Florida, where the list only contains the names of “church personnel,” without distinguishing what positions each individual held or if they are still alive. On the other side of the spectrum, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City released extensive information, including timelines of the abuse reports and summaries of internal clergy files.

Compare your local list to others in the state or comparably sized dioceses. See if the list contains identifying information like ordination dates, which seminary they attended, dates of birth and where they served. See if the list discloses how many reports against each clergy have been submitted

Look for inconsistencies by searching for members that appear on your local list and others in our database. Alfredo Prado, for example, appears on six different lists in Texas, each disclosing different parcels of information about him.

A few things to note about our data.

ProPublica has heard from dozens of people since our project launched who have pointed out missing people and gaps in information within our database. The response is further evidence of the inadequacy of the lists that dioceses have released. However, our database is by design limited to what Catholic leaders have decided to release. We have not attempted to fill in these gaps in information, but instead call attention to them.

We published answers to some frequently asked questions that explain this in more detail and have other information that might be useful in your reporting.

We intend, for a period of time, to update our database with new data released by the dioceses.

One more thing: If you’re interested in downloading our data to use in your reporting, it’s available in our Data Store, with some restrictions on its use.

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Lexi Churchill

Lexi Churchill is a research reporter for the ProPublica-Texas Tribune Investigative Initiative.

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