The high-profile web site BishopAccountability.org has long extolled a policy that it will not publicly post the names and cases of priests in which the accusers have recanted their claims. However, the organization continues to do this very thing.
The site recently added the nine-year-old case of falsely accused priest Fr. Ronald L. Bourgault, from the Archdiocese of Boston, to its database of "publicly accused" clerics. BishopAccountability has plastered the innocent pastor's photo on its site, and it has stamped the word "Accused" in his entry.
In a tragic series of events in 2002 and 2003, a man claimed that the priest had molested him decades earlier. The archdiocese removed Fr. Bourgault from ministry for eight months, after which the accuser and his lawyer both finally admitted that the man had "misidentified" his alleged abuser. (Read about the clear-cut case in a February 2003 article in the Boston Globe.)
The popular Fr. Bourgault has never had any other charges of such wrongdoing in nearly five decades of ministry.
Here is BishopAccountability.org's stated policy:
13. If a survivor publicly withdraws an allegation, recants, or states that the alleged perpetrator has been misidentified, and if there are no other allegations of abuse against the accused cleric, that cleric is removed from the database. If an allegation is withdrawn by a victim and this withdrawal is not reported by the news media, then there is a chance that the current status of this allegation is not reported in the database, despite our best efforts. If notified, we will correct our database entry.
There is no doubt that the case of Fr. Bourgault fits the criteria for not posting the case.
It seems BishopAccountability.org has tried to justify its action by stating, "Bourgault's name is included on the list of unsubstantiated cases released by Boston 8/25/11." Indeed, this is true (and very unfortunate), yet it seems that this should have no bearing whatsoever on the fact that the case does not qualify to be posted. There is no question that the accuser recanted his claim.
Unfortunately, the case of Fr. Bourgault is not the only one of its kind. BishopAccountability.org has also posted the case of Jesuit priest Fr. John M. Costello of New York. In a case very similar to that of Fr. Bourgault, the accuser recanted his claim after concluding that "another priest" had abused him. (Sources: 1, 2)
Again, the site has posted the innocent priest's picture along with the word "Accused" in an entry for Fr. Costello.
There are more, but one gets the point.
Posting the names and pictures of innocent priests on a web site as "publicly accused" child molesters, especially in those cases in which the accusers have recanted, does absolutely nothing for the protection of children or for the justice of real victims.
Most notably, the reputations of good and honest priests are irreparably tarnished.
*** UPDATE (9/20/11): BishopAccountability.org responded to this post with the following reply:
[Note: I would like to thank Mr. Dave Pierre for calling to our attention (see below) an error in our Database of Accused Priests. When Rev. Ronald Bourgault was included in Cardinal O'Malley's list two weeks ago, we mistakenly added him to our database as well. His name has been removed. We previously had never listed Fr. Bourgault in the database, because we were able to confirm that the survivor, who was abused as a very small child, had misidentified the perpetrator. Accordingly, Fr. Bourgault was excluded by our posting policy. We don't believe he should have been included on Cardinal O'Malley's "unsubstantiated" list, because the allegation against Fr. Bourgault was never a real allegation. Cardinal O'Malley also included on his list Rev. Edward C. McDonagh, who, like Fr. Bourgault, previously had not been listed in our database. We mistakenly added Fr. McDonagh's name to our database after Cardinal O'Malley listed him. His name has now been removed, pending a review of the archdiocesan file. We take our posting policy very seriously, and we apologize for these errors. The case of Rev. John M. Costello, S.J., which Mr. Pierre also mentions, is an entirely different circumstance. Our posting policy states: "If an individual is 'cleared' or 'exonerated' by an internal church investigation and/or a diocesan review board decision, the individual remains in the database." If we receive or discover independent confirmation that, as the Jesuits claim, the survivor has recanted in the Costello case, we will reevaluate Fr. Costello's inclusion in the database. Inclusion of a name in our database does not mean that we consider an allegation credible. The database gathers all allegations, excluding only those that involve mistaken identity, either willful or accidental. I would like to thank Mr. Pierre again for calling this matter to our attention. — Terence McKiernan, President, BishopAccountability.org]
Our reply: McKiernan and his organization are still "bearing false witness," a sin. The accuser of Fr. Costello recanted – plain and simple. This fact has never been disputed.
And it is odd that the site removed Fr. McDonagh from its database. (My post made no mention of Fr. McDonagh at all!) Indeed, the priest is 100% innocent. Rev. McDonagh was exonerated and cleared just like over two dozen other Boston priests have been. Why doesn't BishopAccountability.org remove the files of these innocent men as well? BishopAccountability.org's posting policy is disgraceful – and un-Christian.]