Advocates for victims of clergy abuse called Thursday for an investigation into its allegations that the Roman Catholic church purposely funneled problem priests into the chaplain corps of the U.S. military.
Meeting with reporters outside the downtown headquarters of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called for congressional hearings to determine "how frequently and why Catholic officials dumped predator priests on military bases."
And they distributed documents that they said showed that Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien ignored sexual misconduct by chaplains when he headed the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services.
O'Brien's spokesman called the allegations absurd, groundless and unsupported.
"Archbishop O'Brien is deeply committed to protecting youth in the care of the Church," spokesman Sean Caine said in a lengthy statement emailed to The Baltimore Sun in response to the group's allegations.
"The Archbishop's history of providing outreach to victims (he met with victims of clergy sexual abuse beginning with his first day as Archbishop of Baltimore), his removal of priests credibly accused of abuse — even if not charged criminally, and his diligence in enforcing and strengthening the policies that protect children in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, should be the measure of his approach to the scourge of sexual abuse," Caine wrote.
The Archdiocese for Military Services, based in Washington, did not return a message seeking comment Thursday.
The victims' group, known as SNAP, released a list online Thursday of about 100 priests who worked as chaplains in the military or in Veterans Affairs hospitals during the past 50 years and were accused of sexual misconduct either before, during or after their service.
The names were compiled from public court, church and military records with help from BishopAccountability.org, which tracks abuse within the Catholic church. SNAP Maryland Director Frank Dingle said they represent a sampling of perpetrators.
The personnel files of one Boston priest on the list contain a 1987 notation that he "fools around with kids," according to newspaper accounts, yet the man was subsequently assigned to a VA hospital in Palo Alto., Calif.
Another Boston priest who was accused of violence and sexual abuse against a preteen boy was later sent to work for the Army, according to personnel records available online.
"It's a well-known policy," said SNAP member Jim Moran, a retired Navy chaplain who says he was abused by a priest. "If a priest was a problem … he was sent to a hospital, to the military."
Caine said no such policy was ever in place and that priests directed to the Military Archdiocese are screened to make sure their placements are appropriate.
"Every single accusation made against a chaplain and reported to the Military Archdiocese is investigated thoroughly," he wrote. "Whenever a credible accusation is made against a priest-chaplain, his faculties to function as a priest are immediately revoked."
SNAP sent letters to military leaders Thursday morning, asking them to reach out to "current and former soldiers and their families who may have been abused and encourage them to get help" and to "punish the wrong-doers to the fullest extent of the military and criminal law."
As evidence of O'Brien's alleged complicity, Dingle points to a 2004 statement O'Brien made before the Archdiocese for the Military Services when he was its archbishop. It addressed the pending release of the John Jay Study, an analysis of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy from 1950 through 2002.
O'Brien said in the remarks that "two such cases have come forward where active duty priest chaplains have been found guilty of engaging in immoral acts with minors." But an Associated Press report from 2002 had already revealed that at least eight military priests were accused in civil or criminal court cases of sexual misconduct since 1977.
Dingle sees the contradiction in figures as a cover-up.
But Caine said the two accounts are "clearly discussing different things."
"Any suggestion of a 'cover up' based solely on statements that were themselves made by the Church and in the public record for at least 7 years is simply absurd," he wrote.