Accused Irish priests

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An Irish government report last month detailed how the Roman Catholic hierarchy shielded pedophile priests from the law. It appears that involved sending some of those priests to the Unites States. The Boston-based group, Bishop-Accountability, is demanding to know where those priests are. Anchor Katy Clark speaks with the group's co-director, Terry McKiernan.

KATY CLARK: I'm Katy Clark. This is the World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH in Boston. Ireland has been rocked by a clergy sex abuse scandal this fall. An Irish government report last month detailed how the Roman Catholic hierarchy shielded pedophile priests from the law. It appears that that involved sending some of those priests to the United States. This week a Boston based group asked the Irish government for help in finding out more about those U.S. assignments. Terry McKiernan is co-director of the group. It's called Bishop Accountability dot org. He's with us in the studio. Terry McKiernan, what the scale that we're talking about here? I mean, is it a handful of priests that the Irish Catholic Church sent to the United States or many, many more priests than that?

TERRY MC KIERNAN: Well, Katy, you know, we've been able to count 69 so far and probably today we'll add another three or four, and honestly, we have a feeling this is the tip of the iceberg.

CLARK: And over what period are we talking about?

MC KIERNAN: Well, our focus in our organization, Bishop Accountability dot org is really on the last 50 or 60 years, and that's because the documents only go back that far. But the trafficking priests, particularly Irish priests between Ireland and the United States has been going on really ever since Irish immigration to the United States became a factor back in the 19th Century.

CLARK: What are you hoping to accomplish with your organization Bishop Accountability? Are you trying to catalog specific individuals who may be a threat?

MC KIERNAN: Well, you know, the name of the organization Bishop Accountability dot org does highlight the managerial aspect of the crisis. We're very interested in the responsibility of the bishops for what has happened and moving the priests around even though their record is known, that kind of thing. But in order to get at that subject, we need to concentrate on the details as well. So we maintain what we call a database of accused priests, which is in a way a kind of Megan's Law list for the Catholic priest's part of the sexual abuse problem in the United States.

CLARK: I can imagine though that there might be some people whose names get on this list who actually have been falsely accused. How do you prevent that from happening?

MC KIERNAN: Well, you know, we're very careful to say that this is a list of accused priests and certainly not a list of guilty priests. And we acknowledge upfront, and I think it's a very important point to make that there is always the possibility that someone will be falsely accused. Although the wear and tear you go through when you're pursuing an allegation should you make one is so severe that even people so to speak on the other side, lawyers who work with the church on these matters admit that the number of false allegations is very, very small.

CLARK: So you have written to area bishops in New England for their cooperation and you also want the government in Dublin to help. How so?

MC KIERNAN: Well, you know, that's an exciting possibility and we're certainly not the only people who are urging the T-Shock [PH], as he is called in Ireland to expand the commission process. Right now, there are three reports out and one more on the way covering three dioceses in Ireland. But, of course, there are many more dioceses than that. And it's clear from the number of priests mentioned in the report out already that additional reports on other dioceses would reveal other priests who were sent at some point to the United States.

CLARK: Are you hopeful that you'll get cooperation on this side from bishops in the United States?

MC KIERNAN: Honestly, I think we're more optimistic about an expansion of the commission process in Ireland than we are about bishops pitching in over here. I think to you and me it's obvious that as these revelations come out in Ireland, and this is a full blown crisis in Ireland right now. There are front page stories all over the country. It's obvious that bishops in the United States could help matters by examining their own records, and deciding whether some of the priests with whom they have worked over the years are priests who fall into this category. And helping with really the revelations that are going on. But honestly, it hasn't been our experience that the church is very interested in doing that. Unless people like yourself, people in the media, people in the court system are forcing them.

CLARK: Terry McKiernan is Co-Director of Bishop Accountability dot org and does campaigning to identify pedophile priests sent to the United States by the Catholic Church in Ireland. Thank you.

MC KIERNAN: Thanks very much.