Ahead of Pope Francis’ scheduled visit to Ireland, an international research group launched a database of Irish clergy convicted or credibly accused of sexually abusing children.
BishopAccountability.org said the online database, unveiled on Monday, was created in the hope of pressing Pope Francis to disclose the names of all priests and brothers deemed guilty of child abuse by the Catholic Church.
It shows the degree to which information remains hidden in the country, it said.
“Hiding the names of credibly accused child molesters puts children at risk, withholds validation from survivors, and makes it nearly impossible for Catholic laypeople to protect their families or hold church leaders accountable,” said Co-Director Anne Barrett Doyle.
The Massachusetts-based group seeks to compile every publicly available document and report on the child abuse crisis to hold bishops accountable for bringing abusers into the church and shielding them from punishment.
The database includes names of priests and religious brothers, along with summaries of the allegations against them.
The Catholic Church in the United States, Chile, Australia, and Ireland – where the pope is making a two-day visit this weekend – are reeling from crises involving sexual abuse of minors.
Numerous surveys have pointed to plummeting confidence in the church in those countries and elsewhere.
‘Culture of death’
The online database coincides with Pope Francis’ unprecedented letter to all Catholics asking them to help root out “this culture of death” and vowing there would be no more cover-ups.
The pontiff addressed his letter on Monday to “the people of God”, church language for all members. He appeared to be launching an appeal for all Catholics to face the crisis together and not let it tear the church apart.
The pope referred to the suffering endured by children because of sexual abuse at the hands of a “significant number of clerics and consecrated persons”.
The Vatican said it was the first time a pope had written to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics about sexual abuse. Past letters on sex-abuse scandals were addressed to bishops and faithful of individual countries.
“We have realised that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death,” he said.
“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realising the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives.
“We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them,” Pope Francis wrote.
Colm O’Gorman, director of Amnesty International and a victim of sexual abuse within the church, told Al Jazeera while the pope’s language was stronger than previous statements, the letter still didn’t go “far enough”.
“The problem is that the bar has been set so low by the Catholic Church – which for decades dismissed the idea that abuse was even happening; accused those of us who spoke out about the systematic nature of the cover-up of slander, of being anti-Catholic; accused the media of an anti-Catholic bias and denied all of this for years,” O’Gorman said.
“The acknowledgment finally that there was a cover-up in parts of the church is welcome, but unfortunately at no point in the pope’s very lengthy two-page letter does he acknowledge the Vatican’s responsibility for that cover up.”
Last week, a grand jury in Pennsylvania released the findings of the largest-ever investigation of sex abuse in the US Catholic Church, finding that 301 priests in the state sexually abused more than 1,000 children over the past 70 years.
In his first response to the report, Francis said that while most cases it listed “belong to the past” it was clear the abuse cited “was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced”.
Last month, Theodore McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington, DC, and one of the US church’s most prominent figures, stepped down as a cardinal after accusations he abused two minors about 50 years ago and later abused adult seminarians.
In May, all 34 of Chile’s bishops offered their resignation to the pope over a widening sexual abuse scandal there. He has so far accepted five of the resignations.