NEW ORLEANS – The Archdiocese of New Orleans released a list Friday of 57 priests and other clergy it says faced credible child sex abuse allegations, the first such list to be released in Louisiana.
Those under archdiocesan control have been removed from the clergy or are dead, Archbishop Gregory Aymond wrote in a pastoral letter released with the list on the archdiocesan website. The list named 20 as priests of religious orders which were responsible for investigating the allegations.
"This entire list has been given to the Orleans Parish District Attorney and will be made available to any other District Attorney," Aymond wrote.
The Catholic Church is reeling from a grand jury report released in August that estimated hundreds of priests in Pennsylvania molested more than 1,000 children since the 1940s.
Louisiana is the state where the first widely reported case of clergy sex abuse became public in the 1980s. Gilbert Gauthe, a priest in the Diocese of Lafayette, pleaded guilty in 1985 to abusing 11 boys but testified that he had molested dozens. The diocese is currently compiling its own list, which will be released once the research is completed, Blue Rolfes, spokeswoman for the Lafayette Diocese, wrote in an email.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans covers the city and seven nearby civil parishes. Aymond said he had received many calls and emails both for and against releasing the list, which he said was created by reviewing files of 2,432 priests who had served in the archdiocese since the 1950s.
"I believe it is the right thing to do in order to foster the healing of victims, in a spirit of transparency, and in the pursuit of justice," he wrote, adding, "Jesus reminds us, 'The truth will set you free.'"
The archdiocese's list includes where each man served and the estimated years during which the abuse occurred.
Alleged abuses by 23 priests and deacons had made the news, but those by the other 34 clergymen apparently had not, The New Orleans Advocate reported . It said the list did not include brothers, nuns, diocesan staff or lay employees of Catholic institutions.
News outlets said eight priests in the Salesian order had worked at Hope Haven, a home for troubled youth. In 2009, the archdiocese agreed to a $5.2 million legal settlement to lawsuits alleging physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
Aymond wrote that more than 10 people, including staff and outside legal professionals, reviewed the files. "For priests with accusations received after their death, additional people reviewed the file to ensure accuracy to the extent that is possible after death," he wrote.
According to Aymond, the number of "substantiated" cases has dropped significantly since 2002, when the U.S. Conference of Bishops created a charter requiring every U.S. diocese to protect children from abuse.
"Most of the accusations are from incidents that occurred decades ago, even as long as 70 years ago," Aymond wrote. "There has not been a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor committed in well over a decade by a member of the clergy in ministry in the Archdiocese of New Orleans."
He also invited people to come forward if they have allegations about someone not on the list.
"For our sins of the past, we ask for your forgiveness and the mercy of God," Aymond wrote. "Our sin is public and it calls us as church leaders to repentance in order that our church can experience renewal."
In recent months, authorities in at least a dozen states have opened investigations, and federal prosecutors have launched an unprecedented statewide probe in Pennsylvania.
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro released a statement saying, "As always, we stand ready to evaluate for possible prosecution any cases brought to us after investigations are completed by the New Orleans Police Department."