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Virginia dioceses list 58 clergy with sex abuse allegations

February 13, 2019
FILE - This Jan. 12, 2018, file photo shows Bishop Barry Knestout during his installation as the 13th bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, Va. Virginia's Catholic Diocese of Richmond on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, published a list of 42 priests with a "credible and substantiated" allegation of sexual abuse against a child. (Mark Gormus/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s two Roman Catholic dioceses on Wednesday published lists of 58 priests credibly accused of sexually abusing minors, joining other dioceses around the country in answering calls to make public the names of abusive clergy.

The diocese of Richmond said each of the 42 priests on its list had a “credible and substantiated” allegation of sexual abuse against a child. The names of 16 priests appeared on a list released by the diocese of Arlington.

Both dioceses said the lists were published after independent reviews of all clergy personnel files. The bishops of both Richmond and Arlington said none of the clergy whose names appear are currently in active ministry. Both bishops apologized to victims in letters that accompanied the lists.

“To those who experienced abuse from clergy, I am truly, deeply sorry,” Richmond Bishop Barry Knestout wrote. “I regret that you have to bear the burden of the damage you suffered at the hands of those you trusted. I am also sorry that you must carry the memory of that experience with you.”

Knestout said publishing the list “can help bring about healing” and “heighten the awareness of this tragic situation.”

The move comes as dioceses in more than two dozen states around the country have taken similar action since a grand jury report released in August alleged that more than 300 priests abused at least 1,000 children over seven decades in Pennsylvania.

On Wednesday, New Jersey’s five Roman Catholic dioceses listed more than 180 priests who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors over a span of several decades.

Thirteen of the 42 priests on the Richmond list are now deceased. Six have been criminally convicted. That list covers allegations dating from the 1950s to the most recent substantiated allegation in 1993, said Deborah Cox, a spokeswoman for the diocese. The list doesn’t include details about the allegations or what parishes the priests were serving in at the time.

Cox said Knestout does not know of any priests or deacons currently serving in ministry or in any other capacity with a credible and substantiated allegation of sexual abuse against them. Cox said that if victims come forward with allegations against any clergy in active ministry, Knestout “will respond in accordance with our commitment to addressing allegations of sexual abuse.”

One of the priests listed by the Richmond diocese is the Rev. John P. Blankenship, who pleaded guilty in 2002 to sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy in 1982 while the boy and his mother went to the Church of the Sacred Heart in Prince George County to do housekeeping chores. Blankenship was given supervised probation and avoided a prison sentence. He was removed from ministry in 2002 and dismissed from the priesthood in 2007.

Eight of the priests on the Arlington list are deceased.

“The publishing of this list will bring a range of emotions for all of us. Embarrassment, frustration, anger and hurt are all natural emotions to experience in a time such as this. I share those emotions,” Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Arlington diocese wrote.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in October that his office and state police were investigating possible clergy sexual abuse of children and whether any church officials may have covered up or “abetted any such crimes.”

Herring set up a hotline and an online reporting form for any victims to report abuse.

A spokesman for Herring did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

After the clergy sex abuse crisis exploded in Boston in 2002, U.S. bishops adopted a series of reforms, including stricter requirements for reporting allegations to law enforcement. Since then, abuse allegations have been reported in dioceses around the country.

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