November 25, 2020

Catholic bishop apologizes for ‘shattered lives’ as church releases list of accused sex abusers

The man at the head of the Catholic church in Mississippi publicly apologized Tuesday for sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests and clergy in the past.

Bishop of the Jackson Diocese Joseph Kopacz spoke Tuesday during a news conference outside a cathedral in downtown Jackson.

“Every case of abuse represents shattered lives and damaged families and communities,” Kopacz said. “I hope that releasing this list will demonstrate a new level of transparency and a sincere desire to accompany victims of sexual abuse as our God of compassion and justice demands. I apologize to all the victims of abuse, to their families and to the faithful who have been hurt by this scandal.”

The diocese published the list Tuesday on its website as part of the Catholic Church’s international reckoning with allegations of sex abuse that have proliferated around the world.

The victims in the Jackson Diocese were boys and girls ages 5 to 17, diocese chancellor Mary Woodward said. Woodward said the cases date from 1939 to 1998, and none of the accused clergy are still in active ministry.

Woodward said there are two additional cases involving clergy whose names were not released Tuesday. One is on appeal. The other, still under investigation, involves abuse that allegedly happened in 1961 but was just reported recently.

Woodward, members of an independent fitness review board and retired bishops reviewed about 1,400 files from five bishops of the diocese from 1924 to this year, she said.

In some cases, psychologists “treated a priest and deemed him safe to go back into ministry,” the diocese said in a message that accompanied the list on its website.

Any clergy member, employee or volunteer found to be abusing minors from now on will be permanently removed from ministry, the post said.

“The crime of abuse of any kind is a sin, but the abuse of children and vulnerable adults is especially egregious,” Kopacz wrote in a letter sent to Catholics across the state. “First and foremost, it is a sin against the innocent victims, but also a sin against the Church and our communities. It is a sin that cries out for justice.”

The bishop said he encourages anyone who has been sexually abused by a clergy member or church employee to come forward. He wrote that the diocese has a legal duty to report the cases to law enforcement, and “helping victims find healing and wholeness is our moral imperative.”

He also said the church is taking steps to prevent abuse, including screening and educating employees and volunteers.
The Diocese of Jackson encompasses 65 of Mississippi’s 82 counties and has about 48,000 registered Catholics.