Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Mar 29, 2023 / 11:40 am (CNA).
A new report says that 28 Catholic priests have faced credible child sex abuse allegations while serving in Georgia since the 1940s. However, there are no ongoing or active allegations that can be criminally pursued because either the alleged perpetrator is deceased or the statute of limitations has passed.
“The report contains detailed descriptions of allegations of sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct, including grooming and misuse of authority, against minors and adults,” the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, which issued the March 20 report, wrote in a news release.
According to the report, there were 13 credible accusations within the Archdiocese of Atlanta, seven of which were archdiocesan priests and six of which were in a religious order or affiliated with another diocese. The report cited another 15 credible allegations in the Diocese of Savannah, seven of which were diocesan priests and eight of which were affiliated with a religious order.
The two dioceses cover the entirety of Georgia.
According to the report, certain historical policies and actions by Church personnel “enabled sexual abuse of minors” and “prevented the discovery and investigation of these acts by public or civil authorities.” The report found some instances in which Church officials relocated priests after they were accused of sexually abusing children. At times, the reported noted, this was done “without providing notice to officials in the new parish, diocese, or archdiocese of the prior accusations of sexual abuse of children.”
However, the report added that the Diocese of Savannah began to take these allegations more seriously in the late 1980s and that the Archdiocese of Atlanta also approached these issues more seriously in the 1990s. The report notes that, based on records going back to 2002, both dioceses have been notifying the proper authorities when allegations occur. It added they both “cooperated fully in this file review, responded readily, and made records available as requested.”
Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer of Atlanta said in a statement that the archdiocese will not allow abusers to have access to its communities.
“Drastic changes have happened within the Church in the last 20 years,” Hartmayer said. “We have worked hard to better understand and prevent abuse from ever happening again. We will not waver from the zero-tolerance policy currently in place.”
Bishop Stephen Parkes of the Diocese of Savannah said in a statement that the report “represents a voluntary effort on the part of the Catholic Church in Georgia to be transparent about the past and to hope for continued healing for survivors of abuse.”
“The sexual abuse crisis has been a blight on the Church and a source of profound suffering,” Parkes added. “While the sins of the past cannot be overlooked — and indeed must be acknowledged — I assure you that the Church of today is firmly committed to the safety and protection of children.”
The allegations against priests include numerous accusations of molestation through fondling and other means, and some allegations of sodomy. Then-Father Wayland Brown of the Diocese of Savannah, who was relieved of assignments in 1988 and dismissed from the clerical state in 2004, for example, was accused of oral sodomy and attempted penetration of young boys. Then-Father Stanley Dominic Idziak of the Society of Catholic Apostolate in the Archdiocese of Atlanta faced numerous accusations of child sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated between 1982 and 1988, including acts of sodomy performed on a 12-year-old boy.
One of the more egregious allegations of abuse surrounded accusations against then-Father Leonard Francis Xavier Mayhew, who was dismissed from the clerical state in 1968 and died in 2012. The priest was accused of sexually abusing underage boys from 1962 through 1968. According to the report, Mayhew allegedly told the boys he wanted to initiate them into a club of altar boys and then asked them to engage in sexually abusive initiation activities, which often included slapping the boys’ stomachs until they became red. In other instances with these boys, he is accused of forcing them to remove all of their clothing, touching them sexually, and even pricking a boy with pins.
“Most of the claims against these individuals have not been fully evaluated in a civil or criminal court,” the news release from the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia stated.
“Consequently, unless otherwise indicated, all the allegations should be considered just allegations and should not be considered proven or substantiated in a court of law,” the statement continued. “In all the situations contained in this report either the criminal statute of limitations had expired, the accused was deceased, the allegations had been reported to the proper authorities, or the accused had been prosecuted by the appropriate jurisdiction.”
In addition to those allegations, the report also detailed credible allegations against priests who were credibly accused of sexually abusing minors while assigned to dioceses outside of Georgia, but at some point, also served in Georgia. This included 17 priests who had been in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and two priests who had been in the Diocese of Savannah, but none of those priests faced accusations while in Georgia. The report also includes allegations against 29 priests and laypeople in the two dioceses that could not be credibly verified.
The report noted that its intent is to raise awareness of child sex abuse and provide information to the public and healing to the victims.
“While many of the victims cannot obtain justice through criminal prosecution or civil compensation,” the report states, “this report exposes the offending priests, describes their conduct and the actions of those who concealed their abusive acts, providing them with some measure of vindication and transparency.”
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