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We Assembled the Only Nationwide Database of Priests Deemed Credibly Accused of Abuse. Here’s How.

ProPublica’s reporting spanned several months and produced an original database containing each diocesan list as it was originally published online.

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ProPublica published an interactive database on Tuesday that lets users search for clergy who have been listed as credibly accused of sexual abuse in reports released by Catholic dioceses and religious orders.

It is, as of publication, the only nationwide database of official disclosures. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the religious leaders’ national membership organization, does not publicly release any centralized, countrywide collection of clergy members who have been credibly accused of sexual assault.

But in the absence of any mandate or directive, 178 bishops, archbishops and religious community leaders across the U.S. have published individual lists of clergy members against whom credible allegations were made as of Jan. 20. Each diocese and religious order sets its own standard for determining the credibility of allegations.

Forty-one dioceses and eparchies covering over 9 million Catholics in the United States still have not released lists. This includes over 1.5 million Catholics across Florida, as well as those in major metropolitan areas such as Fresno, California, and San Francisco.

Many dioceses cited a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report as the watershed moment that fueled the rush of disclosures in the past year. The 900-page report detailed abuse by more than 300 priests and described systematic cover-up by church leaders throughout the state. In the months following the report, more than 100 dioceses and religious orders released documents online naming credibly accused priests.

ProPublica reporters spent months collecting the lists as they were originally released by each diocese. They then made them searchable via a public database in order to provide victims of clerical abuse and members of the public a way to search across all of the released lists.

More than 6,700 names are included in the database, and over 5,800 of them are unique. A little more than half of the people named were listed as being deceased. ProPublica did not have the data necessary to merge records with the same name across dioceses, though our reporting on specific clergy indicates that some have surfaced on as many as eight lists.

The makeup of the disclosures differed widely between dioceses. Some restricted the scope of their releases to include only names and statuses while others included additional details such as the nature of the allegations and a full list of locations where the priests served.

The actual form of the documents themselves also varied significantly between dioceses. Some released the disclosures as scanned text files available for download, while others built complete websites and devoted pages to each accused individual.

ProPublica journalists combed through each release over the course of months, archiving copies of them and often returning several times to update individual records as dioceses added or removed names, frequently without explanation, on their websites.

For the purposes of a separate analysis for our story, we standardized the format of some information provided by dioceses. For the interactive database, we standardized the status field for individuals labeled in various ways as “dead” to “deceased” for clarity. We did not alter other identifying details such as the spelling of names, birthdates and ordination dates.

One hundred and fifty-six out of the 178 lists come from dioceses that are part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The rest were released by religious order communities that operate outside of the larger umbrella group. Clergy from religious order communities accounted for roughly a quarter of the names in our database.

Though the scores of disclosures over the past year represent a significant step toward transparency for the church, our reporting indicates that a number of gaps remain. Many dioceses publish insufficient information for victims, let alone the public, to understand with any certainty the scope or details of abuse. And perpetrators of abuse who often fall outside the scope of most disclosures, such as nuns and brothers, as well as priests who abused vulnerable adults, are still only rarely included in the data dioceses report publicly.

The data is available to download in the ProPublica Data Store.

If you find an error in the data or would like to suggest changes, contact [email protected].

Katie Zavadski contributed to this report.

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