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Readers Say Our Database of Accused Priests Is Incomplete. They’re Not Wrong. Here’s Why.

Since we published a database of Catholic priests deemed “credibly accused” of sexual abuse and misconduct, we’ve heard from dozens of frustrated Catholics and readers who want fuller transparency and more complete lists from the church.

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Two weeks ago, ProPublica launched the first-ever searchable database of clergy deemed “credibly accused” of sexual abuse and misconduct by the Catholic Church in the United States.

The database has gotten more than a million views since it was published, and we have received a steady stream of feedback from users. Dozens of them have written to us with questions and concerns. Often, they’ve sent us missing data about individual clergy in our database. Sometimes, they’ve suggested priests they believe belong on our list.

We have not added anything to our database outside of the information released by dioceses about credibly accused clergy. You can find out why by reading our questions and answers about what is included in our database.

But the outpouring of inquiries about the findings in our database emphasizes one of our key findings. No Catholic leaders have issued directives on what to include in the lists, and there was little collaboration between dioceses. So the information in the database is inconsistent and incomplete. In fact, one of our goals in building something that lets people compare data among lists was to highlight those issues.

Since we launched, there are signs that ProPublica’s database is beginning to spur increased transparency. The Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, cited ProPublica’s database when it announced it had added two new accused clergy over the last year. Several other dioceses have added clergy to their lists in recent weeks, though they didn’t explicitly cite ProPublica as a reason they did so.

Terence McKiernan, who founded Bishop Accountability, an organization that has long tracked publicly accused clergy, told a Catholic news site, Cruxnow.com, that ProPublica’s database “absolutely will increase pressure on other dioceses to publish lists.”

“There are gaps, and what ProPublica has done will exert serious pressure on the dioceses to fill those gaps,” he said.

And journalists around the country have used our project to hold other dioceses accountable. The Patch.com network published dozens of local stories highlighting lists.

The Tribune-Democrat, based in Pennsylvania, identified several discrepancies between the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown’s list and a more extensive report released by the state attorney general’s office in 2016. Chip Minemyer, the paper’s editor, also found that extensive identifying information included in the AG report was not included in the list released by the diocese.

The Orlando Sentinel found four accused clergy members associated with the Diocese of Palm Beach, Florida, which has yet to release a list of its own.

The Diocese of Palm Beach is one of five Florida dioceses, together serving more than 1.5 million Catholics, that has yet to publish a list of credibly accused clergy. More than 10,000 users have searched our database from Florida.

We encourage newsrooms to use our data to do their own digging into their local diocese’s credibly accused clergy list — or the lack of one. We’ve published a reporting recipe, and we’ve even made the underlying data available for free.

We’ve also set up a form for anybody interested in getting in touch with us about the data, or for people to let us know how they’re using the database.

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Lexi Churchill

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

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