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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The bishop of the St. Augustine diocese in Florida is withholding the names of credibly accused clergy, which promises to reveal decades of clerical sexual abuse in his diocese.
Saint Augustine Catholics are pushing back on the reluctance of Bp. Felipe de Jesús Estévez, presenting him with a June 10 letter from the Coalition of Concerned Catholics (CCC) demanding transparency and accountability — and the immediate release of the list, included in the diocesan "Report to the Faithful."
The CCC represents a St. Augustine-based growing group of lay faithful primarily concerned with the dissent, heterodoxy and apostasy present in the Church.
Christopher M. Shea, CEO, is demanding the report be disclosed "immediately." Shea said that local Catholics "are hurting, dismayed and saddened by the white hot crisis our Church faces." Shea said the faithful of St. Augustine are demanding a "spirit of contrition" from the priests and bishops.
In the letter, Shea and Joe Lowrey, executive vice president, pointed out that "Confidence in Church leadership is at an all-time low," reminding Estévez of the words of Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento: "I need to own and atone for what happened in the Church's name. I have to be accountable to God and his people. That can only be done where there is transparency."
But Kathleen Bagg, director of communications in the diocese of St. Augustine, is insisting, "The 'Report to the Faithful' will not be released to the public until the state has completed its investigation."
The attorney general of Florida, Ashley Moody, is continuing a statewide investigation, begun by former AG Pam Bondi in October 2018, that requires the Florida dioceses to release the name of every Catholic clergy member with credible accusations.
Bagg conceded that "Yes, other bishops have released the names of offending clergy, but they are not under investigation by their attorney general," adding, "It takes time to review 30 years worth of clergy files."
Shea refuted Bagg's excuse that the report cannot be released until Florida's attorney has completed the state investigation, citing the attorney general's office: "We are not prohibiting any dioceses from voluntarily releasing any lists."
NBC2 News corroborated Shea's account reporting that a spokesperson for the AG's office had told their investigator: "We are not prohibiting any dioceses from voluntarily releasing any lists," adding that releasing names would not impede the state investigation.
NBC2 reported on June 11 that it had asked the seven dioceses of Florida to send a list of clergy who had been credibly accused of sexually abusing children; to date only the diocese of St. Petersburg has sent a list, prompting NBC2 to describe the sex abuse investigation of the Florida Catholic Church as "shrouded in secrecy."
In the letter, Shea and Lowrey are demanding that the bishop disclose the following information:
Shea and Lowrey also want the diocese to ascertain whether nondisclosure agreements were part of any financial settlements although they did not ask for names of alleged victims.
This is not the first letter Shea and Lowrey have sent Estévez on behalf of CCC.
On March 1, 2019, they made clear to this bishop that until CCC members see "evidence that you and your brother bishops in the USCCB are confronting, in both word and deed, the corruption and evil present among your ranks" that "members of this faithful coalition will not be donating to your annual stewardship appeal."
Shea and Lowrey received no reply to this letter.
Bagg advised Shea and Lowrey in a recent email that even though the report has not yet been released, they should not be "alarmed."
Shea and Lowrey replied, "Until we receive the report, we remain alarmed."
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