Progress noted, but church still lacks master list

People who have followed developments in the Roman Catholic Church’s clergy sexual abuse scandal over the past several years –many of whom having had their trust, confidence and loyalty tested and shaken by it — have reason now for increased confidence that such a widespread situation never again will occur.

It is clear that the times when bishops, other church leaders, as well as innocent members of the clergy — and even law enforcement — could turn a blind eye to allegations about such horrific conduct are gone forever.

Responding to that new reality, many Catholics and non-Catholics alike no doubt harbor the opinion “Thank God,” although they understand that the task of ridding the church of problem priests and problem lay church employees will remain a constant challenge.

Uninterrupted vigilance will be necessary, going forward. The prospect of a member of the clergy succumbing to human temptations will remain a continuing concern and danger.

That said, an Associated Press article published in the Feb. 7 Mirror exposed a related issue that needs prompt attention, despite the progress that has been made on the abuse front.

There needs to be an official national master database of accused clergy to help agencies avoid hiring those individuals for positions that would put them in contact with children.

According to the Feb. 7 AP article, church and law enforcement officials say there is little they can do to monitor or restrict the nearly 1,700 mostly former clergy members the AP found living without supervision because many left the church voluntarily or have been restricted permanently from the priesthood.

The article quotes the group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests as alleging that many state-level agencies haven’t figured out their role in responding to the clergy abuse scandal.

Such determinations obviously are long overdue; they should be pursued along with compilation of the master database in question.

With more than 170 lists reportedly “out there,” of priests and lay employees who have been the subject of credible allegations, states currently have to choose which lists to seek out regarding individuals applying for specific jobs.

No guarantees exist now that they will select the right ones. The AP said an investigation it conducted found nearly 200 accused clergy members who had been granted teaching, mental health or social work licenses, with about six dozen, as of last year, still holding valid licenses to work in those fields.

Education and licensing departments lament that using lists provided by dioceses can be difficult because of varying state statutes governing what can be considered when deciding whether to issue or revoke a license.

A master list governed by one set of rules and guidelines would minimize confusion and, all considered, be a formidable aid in protecting children.

The disclosure that Pennsylvania’s education licensing department has conducted perhaps the most comprehensive search of its licensing database, checking for nearly 500 clergy members’ names that were released in three grand jury reports over the last decade, is good news.

However, even that search was not complete; it didn’t encompass lay church employees named on diocesan lists nor former priests who might have moved to this state from elsewhere and sought licenses.

The need for a national master database is clear; there can be no credible argument against that. Therefore, there should be no further delay in starting to compile it.