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How AP conducted its investigation into accused priests

By MEGHAN HOYEROctober 3, 2019

In assessing the status of formerly active priests and clergy members from the Roman Catholic Church, The Associated Press started with the official lists published by dioceses and religious orders naming employees who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse.

The AP hand-compiled a national list of accused priests from the 165 dioceses and religious orders that have published such documents. Another 30 dioceses have either not yet published their lists or have given no indication they plan to do so. Among the dioceses not yet publishing are those covering Idaho, Hawaii, Colorado, most of Florida and New York’s Long Island.

As of Oct. 1, the AP’s national list included 5,173 priests, lay persons and other clergy members. People named on multiple lists _ some employees were named by as many as five different groups _ are counted only once.

Each diocese determines its own standard to deem a priest credibly accused, with the allegations ranging from inappropriate conversations or unwanted hugging to forced sodomy or rape.

The AP used diocesan reporting of deceased priests to omit a majority of the listed priests who have since died. Priests whom dioceses said likely were deceased also were omitted from the review.

That left nearly 2,000 priests who were likely living.

A team of AP researchers and reporters spent months searching state and federal court records, social media websites, state licensure board data, news coverage, church bulletins, property ownership records, sex offender registries and other sources to create a general picture of what the named clergy had done since being credibly accused.

Among the data points the AP collected were employment, any charity and volunteer work, current address, criminal history outside the church, and distance living from a school or playground. For the last metric, the AP used a 2,000-foot (610-meter) radius to measure if someone was close to either, which is the most restrictive residency policy among states that have specific sex offender limitations.

Of the nearly 2,000 clergy members and lay people, the Associated Press found roughly two dozen who had died in recent years. Another 76 could not be found. There are 64 currently in prison, and 13 more facing current criminal charges. Several dozen others live in treatment facilities or under strict church restrictions that give them limited access to the public, internet and travel.

Finally, 75 who don’t meet any of the above categories are currently on sex offender registries. That brings the number of those living without close oversight from the church or law enforcement to nearly 1,700.

In all cases, the AP’s findings are likely an undercount because researchers could not find copies of some license certifications, court filings, bankruptcies and earlier sex offender registry entries. In addition, a number of states don’t make such information as property ownership records, court records and licensing checks available online to the public. California, for example, does not provide property owners’ names and Massachusetts does not allow licensing searches for teachers.

The review also didn’t count numerous cases of former clergy members who had gone on to serve in other churches, gotten occupational licenses or been criminally charged with offenses committed after their time as priests, but had died before the AP’s 2019 research.

In some cases, common names and a lack of other identifying information provided by dioceses made it difficult to identify anything more than the most basic information about a person; in others, the AP was able to confirm significant levels of detail about where former priests worked, who they lived with and how they spent their time.

In the case of the most egregious crimes reported since priests left the church, AP reporters tracked down many of the complaints, police reports and other documents related to those cases. AP reporters also compiled the stories of about a dozen former clergy members, interviewing victims, employers, family members, church officials and others to fill out the specifics about their time as priests and after their church service.

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