Duluth News Tribune: In response: Catholic officials have again broken promise to be open

Duluth Catholic officials this month announced a priest “has recently been credibly accused” of molesting a girl and was “rather quickly” removed from ministry.

Sound too good to be true? It is.

Questioned by reporters, Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba admitted he received the abuse report more than a year ago. He admitted it took two months for him to oust the predator. And Duluth’s prosecutor says no one has told him anything about child sex abuse allegations against the priest, Fr. Cornelius Kelleher.

Bishop Sirba left out a few facts as well.

When the allegation came in, and when it was deemed credible, and when the priest was suspended, Sirba and his staff did not ring whistles and bells to alert parishioners or the public. They bought time. They controlled the timing of the announcement. Time gives predators ample opportunity to destroy evidence, intimidate victims, threaten whistleblowers, discredit witnesses, fabricate alibis, flee overseas and molest more kids.

Neither Sirba nor anyone on his staff reported the allegations to police or prosecutors.

He said nothing about where the credibly accused predator priest is now. He could be quietly living in an apartment complex among unsuspecting families or even with relatives with children who are also unaware of the accusations against him.

Sirba said nothing about why the allegation had been deemed “credible.” Despite diocesan claims to the contrary, are there other victims who have reported over the years?

Time and time again for more than a decade, Catholic officials have pledged to be “open and transparent” in clergy sex abuse cases. Time and time again, they have broken that promise.

Bishop Sirba is the latest. He learned of, investigated, and took action on child sex abuse, telling only a few trusted colleagues and making sure parents, parishioners, police and the public were kept in the dark. And 14 months after hearing about the alleged crimes, he announced them — but still didn’t contact independent law enforcement.

That’s secrecy, not openness. That’s recklessness, not prudence. That’s “business as usual,” not reform.

We with the National Survivor Advocates Coalition hope Bishop Sirba’s flock rebels against his irresponsible behavior and that Duluth police and prosecutors leap in and act aggressively to protect children and expose wrongdoers.

Kristine Ward of Dayton, Ohio, is chairwoman of the National Survivor Advocates Coalition.