Web Site Documents a Crisis: Victims, Advocates Turn to Organization for Accounting of Church Scandal

Article excerpt

Five years ago, internal documents of the Boston archdiocese, forced into the open by court orders, showed a pattern of bishops protecting abusers, covering up crimes, and putting children at risk. Nationwide, documents and press coverage revealed a similar phenomenon from Long Island, N.Y., to Los Angeles, from Manchester, N.H., to Louisville, Ky., to Davenport, 'Iowa. Never before had so much information about the Catholic church come out in the open for public scrutiny.

Since June 2003, Terence McKiernan and Anne Barrett Doyle, codirectors of BishopAccountability.org and still practicing Catholics, have been archiving the once secret files of bishops. They also have collected and put online survivors' accounts, attorneys general reports, depositions and review board records.

The documents not only preserve a rare look behind the chancery doors at the reasoning of church leaders in a time of crisis, but they have also proven a boon to prosecutors, investigators, abuse victims and those simply looking for answers to the question of how the scandal could have grown to such outsize proportions in an institution dedicated to spreading the Christian message.

BishopAccountability.org's largest collections of documents are from Boston (40,000 pages), Manchester (9,000 pages, all posted online), and Orange, Calif. (4,500 pages).

The organization, a nonprofit corporation based in Waltham, Mass., is dedicated to consolidating and preserving the whole public record.

BishopAccountability.org is "my bibliography and case study," said Peggie Thorp, editor of In the Vineyard, the national Voice of the Faithful newsletter.

Timothy D. Lytton, professor of law at Albany Law School, said BishopAc countability.org was "incredibly useful" in his legal research, reducing a five- to 10-year project down to a two-and-a-haft year effort. Lytton is the author of a forthcoming book, HoMing Bishops Accountable: How Lawsuits Helped the Catholic Church Confront Clergy Sex Abuse.

Fr. Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer and survivor advocate, said the organization has "got real stuff" and "not statements of the bishops," adding, "The documentary evidence shows what really happened."

Early on when the Boston scandal unfolded, McKiernan, who founded the organization, became fascinated by the documents, which were the core of the story "about sex and power" but more important, "about information," he said in a recent interview. In transferring priests from assignment to assignment, he explained, "the bishops knew but did not tell the people what they needed to know to protect their children."

For Anne Barrett Doyle, knowledge is power. "The act of organizing information makes it 100-fold more powerful," she said. "Information that is accessible becomes operative in the real world."

"Every great movement needs a library," Barrett Doyle explained during an interview. "We facilitate the work of everyone from public prosecutors to lots of survivors, who ask us to do research."

A significant research service performed is the compilation of a database describing allegations against more than 2,900 U.S. priests. The group has posted detailed assignment records, including parish and chancery appointments and, in many cases, telltale leaves of absence. …