The two Roman Catholic dioceses of North Dakota should disclose lists of priests accused of sexual abuse. Spokesmen for the Fargo Diocese of eastern North Dakota and the Bismarck Diocese of western North Dakota rejected requests from The Forum to release complete lists of priests who spent time in the diocese and were accused of sexual abuse. (See Forum story, Jan. 24.) Citing policy “consistent with policies followed by other public and private institutions,” the church said employee privacy was one reason complete lists of offending priests would not be forthcoming.

That’s a weak argument. The Catholic church is not just another public or private institution. The priest sex scandal is not a routine matter of employee privacy. The two North Dakota dioceses do not exist in isolation from a worldwide scandal that has rocked the church for at least a decade.

No less than Pope Francis has pledged again and again to root out the evil of priest sexual abuse. He has been extraordinarily candid about the problem, and has emphasized the vital need for the church to be transparent and cooperative as the church struggles to put the scandal to rest.

Stonewalling of the sort displayed by the two dioceses of North Dakota does not comport with the pope’s message. The flat-out refusal to reveal priests accused of sexual abuse smacks of precisely the kind of official church conduct that deepened the scandal and subsequently seriously harmed the church.

It is possible, even likely, that listing all offending priests (some of whom are dead) would expose the church to more lawsuits. Such fallout is an inevitability of the church’s history on this matter. But by seeming to tilt toward protection of priests rather than show sincere concern for victims, the church further damages its already battered credibility. And in the long term – which is how the Catholic Church views history, the present and the future – doing right now by the victims of priest misconduct will improve parishioners’ perception of their church.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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