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We’ve Gotten a Lot of Questions About Our Database of Credibly Accused Priests. Here Are the Answers.

Our database compiles lists of thousands of priests deemed “credibly accused” of sexual abuse and misconduct. Dozens of readers wrote in with questions and suggestions.

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We published a database in January of Catholic clergy who have been deemed “credibly accused” of sexual abuse or misconduct by nearly 180 dioceses and religious orders around the country. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have searched the database.

A number of those people have reached out with questions about the project. Many have shared personal stories as survivors of abuse. And although the officially released lists total more than 5,800 unique names, dozens of people have written in to suggest names of clergy who they believe have been left off. We’re glad to hear from readers, and we wanted to provide answers to several of the most common questions we’ve received.

I know of a priest who isn’t on your list, or I have additional information about someone who’s been credibly accused. Can you include this information in your database?

The information in our database was taken directly from the lists we collected from dioceses and religious orders. The lists were released without any directives or guidelines from the Vatican or the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, so each bishop is free to determine what is disclosed. That means lists contain different pieces of information, and some of the lists may be incomplete.

Altering that data or adding information from another source would change the purpose of our database, which is to collect official records and make them easier to use. If you have reason to believe that a diocese’s list omits a credibly accused person, or that it has incorrect information, we suggest that you reach out to the diocese directly. Many dioceses have included contact information on their disclosures where survivors and others can reach out with questions or concerns about the names on their lists. We include direct links to every list we collected within our database.

What’s the difference between your database and the work of Bishop Accountability? Why do they have names that aren’t in your database?

Bishop Accountability is a website maintained by a team of people who comb through news reports, legal filings and other documents to track abuse in the church. While we collect only official lists from dioceses and orders, they gather information from a wide range of sources. Their database contains many clergy who don’t appear on official diocesan lists and so aren’t in our database. They also include more than 450 names connected to dioceses that haven’t released lists at all.

A number of people wrote to make sure we knew about Bishop Accountability. Rest assured that we do. We spoke to the people behind Bishop Accountability several times during the course of our reporting. They are quoted in our story, and we link to the group’s website.

I found the same priest listed multiple times. Why didn’t ProPublica merge those records?

We do not yet have the data necessary to merge multiple records with the same name across dioceses in a way that meets our journalistic standards. That’s because many dioceses do not provide crucial identifying information, such as birthdates, ordination dates and assignment histories, for the people they name.

Because records for the same priest can disagree from diocese to diocese, we designed our database in a way that would allow users to compare information among them.

During the course of reporting stories for this project, we found that some people have surfaced on as many as eight lists. Other times, we’ve found identical names that belong to different people.

I noticed that a diocese has updated its list since you published your database. Will you update your project with the new information they’ve published?

If you notice that a diocese’s list has changed since we last updated, please reach out to us and let us know. It is our intention to continue updating our database for a period of time, as more dioceses release lists for the first time and others add names and other identifying details.

When we stop keeping the information up to date, we’ll add a prominent note to each page letting readers know that we’ve done so.

I think I found something in your database that looks different from what the diocese has.

If you believe you’ve found an error in how we transcribed information from a diocese’s list, please reach out to us at clergylists@propublica.org and we’ll investigate the record as quickly as we can.

I’m a reporter and would like to use your database to report on my local diocese. Any tips? And are you sharing any of the data you’ve compiled?

We’ve written a reporting recipe to help local reporters use the database in their reporting. And yes, the data is available for free to download, with some restrictions on its use, in our Data Store.

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