Victims of clergy abuse and their advocates gathered at the headquarters for the Archdiocese of San Francisco on Thursday to hand deliver a list they’ve spent years compiling, which includes the names of hundreds of priests accused of preying on children, abusing some of them for years.
The list is 312 names long and goes back more than 100 years. While many of the accused predators are dead, some remain working at Bay Area churches today.
“We’re talking about the full gamut of sexual assault - sodomy, oral sex,” said Dan McNevin, an abuse survivor himself and a local leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). “It can be so ugly. It can be sharing victims among priests.”
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Among the names on SNAP’s list are three priests who continue to serve in the Bay Area: Fr. David Ghiorso, Fr. Michael Mahoney, and Msgr. Michael Harriman.
As NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit first reported earlier this year, the three priests were accused in lawsuits filed in a newly opened legal window made possible a 2019 change in California law, which temporarily suspended the statute of limitations on child sex abuse lawsuits, allowing potential victims to file new claims through the end of 2022, regardless of how long ago the alleged abuse occurred.
All three priests denied the allegations against them directly or through an attorney.
The Archdiocese said in a statement that their own internal reviews found the claims not to be credible and that “the allegations were not sustained, and accordingly, the priests were returned to ministry” after briefly being placed on leave.
While the lawsuit against Mahoney has since been dropped, the plaintiff’s attorney said his client still stands behind the allegation but does not want to proceed in court at this time.
SF Archdiocese Only Diocese in California Refusing to Disclose List of Accused Priests
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone is the only California bishop yet to release an internal list of priests accused of sexually abusing children, as NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit previously reported.
“It caused me to feel deep sadness and intense anger, said Tim Stier, a former priest who served 25 years with the Diocese of Oakland, who left after meeting clergy abuse survivors and learning of their pain.
“I’m driven by a sense of justice for these people because I’ve gotten to know them and know their stories and know the damage they suffer – it goes on every day of their lives.”
Out of nearly 200 Catholic dioceses across the nation, only about 10% of bishops have refused to release a list of their own, according to SNAP. San Francisco, they say, is by far the largest diocese or archdiocese among the holdouts.
From San Diego to Santa Rosa, California’s 11 other bishops have posted such lists online, most of them following a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report that found more than 300 priests across the state had sexually abused children, also finding that church leaders helped cover up their crimes.
Sex Abuse Advocates Deliver List of Accused Priests to SF Archdiocese
In the absence of such a list from the Archdiocese, SNAP said it was compelled to release its own list, which it had been compiling for four years. SNAP’s members had planned on marching inside the Archdiocese headquarters to deliver their list, but were met just outside the building by Peter Barlow, the head of media relations for the Archdiocese.
Despite being continually asked about whether the Archdiocese ever intends to disclose its abuse list, Barlow never answered the question, and instead referred the crowd to a statement he released minutes earlier to members of the media. The statement from the San Francisco Archdiocese says, in part, “Our transparency related to sexual abuse allegations is directed to civil authorities such as police and sheriff departments, as well as an independent review board and our parish communities.”
The statement made no mention of whether the Archdiocese ever intends to disclose which of its priests have been accused of sexual abuse.
Outside the doors of the Archdiocese headquarters, Joey Piscitelli, a member of SNAP, repeatedly questioned Barlow about why San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has failed to release such a list.
"What I’m asking you is are you going to release a list or just give a response and dodge it? I want know if you’re going to release the list," Piscitelli said.
“I did give a response,” said Barlow, referring to that written statement, which fails to reference the infamous list in question.
“That’s not good enough,” Piscitelli replied.
How SNAP Created Its List of ‘Predator’ Priests
In compiling the SNAP list of priests, McNevin said he and his fellow advocates relied on lawsuits, criminal cases, church documents, and interviews with victims to assemble the names of the accused.
However, since SNAP does not have access to the church’s internal files, abuse advocates believe the actual level of abuse in the San Francisco area is likely much more widespread.
"A predator is dangerous," McNevin said. “This is a spiritual trauma. It is a physical trauma. The only way to get at it is to talk about it -- and the Archdiocese of San Francisco will not talk about it.”
About half of the accused priests are still alive, according to SNAP. Among those who have since died is Fr. Martin Greenlaw, who pleaded guilty to embezzling from the church in the 1990s, and was recently accused in a lawsuit of forcing an 8-year-old boy to perform oral sex.
SNAP Still Building More Lists of Accused Priests in California
McNevin said SNAP continues to compile its own lists for other dioceses across Northern California, spanning Fresno to the Oregon border. So far, they’ve counted more than 600 names, a tally that has climbed steadily over the past few years. Back in 2002, around the time of the infamous Boston church scandal, McNevin said they had fewer than 100 names in Northern California.
SNAP’s members hope releasing the list now will lead to more victims coming forward, especially in light of California's 2019 change in state law, which now allows child sex abuse victims to file civil litigation against their abusers through the end of the year, regardless of how long ago the abuse took place. The current three-year window has added dozens more names to those lists, as NBC Bay Area reported over the summer.
However, even when Catholic bishops disclose their lists of abusers, McNevin said SNAP’s lists are consistently longer.
“We’ve gone through all these lists, and we have not found one that is complete,” McNevin said. “It’s a white-wash process.”