Six Catholic priests who served in Northeast Mississippi are listed among those credibly accused of sexual abuse.
A list made public by the Diocese of Jackson Tuesday includes 37 clergy members – including priests, members of religious orders and a deacon – who served within the Diocese of Jackson. None of the men on the list are still serving. The release is part of the international reckoning of clergy abuse allegations that have shaken the Catholic Church. An accusation is considered credible when it has been investigated, presented to the Independent Fitness Review Board and deemed to be specific and believable.
“I apologize to all the victims of abuse, to their families, and to the faithful who have been hurt by this scandal,” said Bishop Joseph Kopacz in a statement read in a Tuesday morning press conference. “The crime of sexual abuse is a sin and has no place in our Church, the Body of Christ.”
Of the clergy listed, three have connections to St. Francis in Aberdeen, including two separate reports of abuse in Aberdeen. Two have connections to St. Joseph in Starkville and one has a connection to St. John in Oxford. The cases connected to these priests occurred from the late 1950s to the 1990s. The reports of abuse were made between 1997 and 2014.
“It’s a scandal and a grave sin,” said Joe Tonos, the pastor of St. John in Oxford. “It should have never happened.”
Some of the names have long been known. The late Bernard Haddican, who served in 11 parishes between 1960 and 1991, is notorious, Tonos said. He is accused of abuse that occurred in multiple locations between 1964 and 1984. One of Haddicon’s accusers told his story in the Clarion Ledger in January.
“Sadly, it didn’t come as a shock to anyone,” Tonos said of Haddican, who served in Oxford in the late 1960s. “There are going to be some names that are a surprise.”
Kopacz has laid out the steps the church is taking steps to prevent abuse, including screening and educating employees and volunteers. Anyone who abused a minor is permanently removed from ministry. The diocese has presented its cases to the Mississippi Attorney General’s office twice. Any new reports are presented to the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services and local law enforcement or district attorney’s offices
”The Diocese of Jackson is committed to ensuring that those in our care – especially children and vulnerable adults – are safe from abuse,” Kopacz said. There has been too much secrecy in the church, Tonos said. He feels the church is taking these steps toward transparency because of state and federal investigations.
”This would never had been published without the DOJ (U.S. Department of Justice),” Tonos said. The Diocese of Jackson currently encompasses 65 of Mississippi’s 82 counties and has about 48,000 registered Catholics. The list includes accused priests who served in what is now the Diocese of Biloxi, which was founded in 1977. In January, the Diocese of Biloxi released the names of three clergy members it said had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct against minors since the diocese was founded. It said all three were prohibited from the ministry and allegations were reported to authorities. One was accused in 2015 of misconduct with an adolescent boy in Laurel, and the Biloxi Diocese said he is serving a 10-year prison sentence. Another was accused of misconduct with an adolescent girl in Biloxi during the mid-1980s; the third, with adolescent girls in Biloxi in 1989.
The bishop said he encourages anyone who has been sexually abused by a clergy member or church employee to come forward. He wrote that the diocese has a legal duty to report the cases to law enforcement, and “helping victims find healing and wholeness is our moral imperative.”
The Associated Press reported that in the final four months of 2018, Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States released names of more than 1,000 priests and others accused of sexually abusing children. More information has been released since then. In January, 14 Catholic dioceses in Texas identified 286 priests and others accused of sexually abusing children.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.