The Diocese of Tulsa and Eastern Oklahoma on Wednesday released the findings of an internal audit that found 11 Catholic clerics had been “credibly accused of sexual abuse against a minor.”
That’s 2% of all 544 clerics on record in the diocese’s 46-year history — which the leader of a national organization representing the sex abuse victims of priests called “extraordinarily low.”
Of publishing the new report and the names of all 11 “credibly accused,” Tulsa Bishop David Konderla wrote: “Though this might be a difficult path, I believe this is the best path to bring healing and to restore trust.”
The new report, which published the names of all 11 accused, does not include the Rev. Joe Townsend, the subject of an internal investigation the diocese described Wednesday as “still ongoing.” Townsend was placed on leave in July for what the diocese termed “a non-frivolous allegation” of sexual misconduct with a minor.
At the time, Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said he had been contacted by the diocese and he personally contacted the Tulsa Police Department about the allegation.
Zach Hiner, executive director at the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the Tulsa diocese omitted critical information that would be helpful to other potential victims and those close to them, as well as all local Catholics.
“The Diocese published the priest’s names, dates of birth, dates of ordination, dates of death. What would be far more helpful is to know where these men served so the church communities can reflect,” Hiner said. “And when were the allegations received by church officials and what did they do in response? Absent that information, this is just sort of the bare minimum of all the reports I’ve seen.”
Of the 11 individuals whose names were published by the Tulsa diocese, seven are known to be deceased, according to the report.
As for its reporting methods, the diocese said it first completed an internal audit process to ensure all diocesan personnel files were accounted for. The 544 files reportedly represented deceased priests, living priests, priests who had formerly served in the diocese, individuals who have been dismissed from the clerical state, deceased deacons, living deacons, and deacons who had formerly served in the diocese.
“To create the list of credible allegations, the Diocese engaged the law firm of GableGotwals. All 544 files were provided in their entirety to GableGotwals. No records were withheld. GableGotwals reviewed every note, letter, and document in the personnel files consisting of over 80,850 pages, which took over 400 hours to review,” the report states.
“On behalf of the Church in Eastern Oklahoma, I apologize to all victims and their families,” Bishop Konderla wrote in the report. “To the courageous and resilient survivors of child sexual abuse, I applaud your bravery and want you to know the Catholics in Eastern Oklahoma support you on your path to healing and justice.”
Hiner told the Tulsa World that various studies and reports, from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and secular officials, have put the prevalence of sexual abuse of minors by priests between 5% and 9%, “so 2% seems extraordinarily low.”
“A lot of times, these reports focus on old cases, so church leaders can suggest these problems are in the past,” Hiner said. “But the average age of a survivor of sexual abuse coming forward in the U.S. is 52. If you were abused in the late ’80s or early ’90s, that means based off the statistics, you wouldn’t be coming forward to make a report for another 20 years. And people abused more recently wouldn’t have come forward yet.”
Hiner said Tulsa is very late to the practice of self-reporting.
“These lists first started being released 17 years ago — the Diocese of Tuscon was first to do this, in 2002,” he said. “This recent spate of lists — about half the dioceses in the U.S. have released their own lists since the Pennsylvania grand jury report last year, so to me it appears these lists are being released because of increasing public pressure.”
Still, Hiner said the practice is helpful in increasing public education about the sexual abuse of children.
“Survivors suffer in silence and self-blame and guilt for decades in most cases. These are critical tools for the healing of survivors and I also think they are critically important for the prevention of future cases,” Hiner said.
“It helps when parents and parishioners know to look among their own ranks for the signs of grooming and for potential victims and to understand it can be someone we trust and respect and look up to.”