FARGO, North Dakota — North Dakota’s Catholic dioceses are mulling whether and when to release information about priests accused of sexual abuse, even as critics say they are moving too slowly following explosive revelations in Pennsylvania last year.
The Bismarck Diocese, the state’s second-largest, says it plans to release the names of priests with “substantiated claims” against them of sexual misconduct with minors after it finishes reviewing its files. But the Fargo Diocese hasn’t yet decided whether to release names.
The dioceses responded to questions from The Associated Press following revelations in Pennsylvania last summer that more than 300 priests had been credibly accused of molesting more than 1,000 children, and as Pope Francis last month convened a summit of Catholic leaders from around the world on the issue.
In North Dakota, Bismarck Diocese spokeswoman Sonia Mullally said files are being reviewed and a timeline for revealing the list is being discussed. Fargo Diocese spokesman Paul Braun said the diocese is reviewing personnel files but no decision has been made on releasing the information.
Neither Bismarck Bishop David Kagan nor Fargo Bishop John Folda agreed to be interviewed.
A leading attorney who represents survivors of abuse, Minnesota-based Jeff Anderson, called the statements from the North Dakota bishops a case of “delay, minimize and tease” and said they “continue to hide and use excuses” to protect themselves and sexual offenders.
“There is and remains a clear and present danger,” said Anderson, who promised to set his sights on North Dakota, much as he has done in Minnesota, where he helped pressure dioceses to release lists of offenders and last year won a $210 million settlement that included 450 victims of clergy sexual abuse.
“We’ve only just begun,” Anderson said. “While much progress has been made in Minnesota and elsewhere, there’s a lot of work to be done in the Dakotas.”
Bishop Accountability, which compiles a database of publicly accused priests in the U.S., lists eight clergy members from the Fargo Diocese and six from the Bismarck Diocese.
A Colorado man in 2013 sued the Bismarck Diocese over sexual abuse by a priest who has since died. That case settled out of court. Another man sued the Fargo diocese in 2009, saying he was sexually assaulted by a priest on a school trip. The accuser died in 2015.
Fernando Sayasaya, a former Fargo priest accused of molesting two boys in the 1990s, was sentenced in October to 20 years in prison. Sayasaya was accused of misconduct while he was assigned to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo and the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in West Fargo. He fled to the Philippines in 1998 and was returned In December 2017.
Five years ago, Fintan Dooley, 73, a longtime member of the Catholic Church in Bismarck where he was a onetime altar boy, settled a sexual harassment complaint with the Bismarck Diocese by accepting an apology. He said he has forgiven the priests but believes there should be grand jury investigations of both dioceses and is most bothered by what he calls a cover-up by bishops.
“My message is to open up the records,” Dooley said. “Tell the truth. Jesus says the truth sets you free.”
Officials with the Fargo Diocese, which has about 70,000 members, and the Bismarck Diocese, which has about 62,000 parishioners, have said in the past that they would not release a full list of accused priests out of privacy concerns to employees. They say they have honored civil reporting obligations and have extensive victim assistance programs.
Tim Lennon, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said in an email to the AP that the two North Dakota bishops are giving lip service to the issue.
“Bishop Folda suggests he wants to continue to hide and cover up predators to protect his power and prestige; the safety of his parishioners and his community are secondary,” Lennon said. “As for Bishop Kagan, the whole issue of ‘substantiated claims’ fails to meet any civil standard of accountability.”
Lennon said the Church should not be investigating itself and all reports of sexual abuse of children, minors and vulnerable adults must be reported to police. SNAP has called on states to investigate clergy sexual abuse, 18 of which are doing so.
“Publishing the names helps rid our culture of the harmful ideology of placing blame, guilt and shame on a victim,” Lennon said. “It also provides an opportunity for those victims whose abuse is not listed to come forward and name the crime and the criminal.”
News researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report from New York.