Sex abuse victim advocates call Anchorage Archdiocese report too little, too late

Bishop Andrew E. Bellisario, C.M., the Apostolic Administrator of Anchorage, speaks at a press conference Jan. 16, 2020 at the Archdiocese of Anchorage building. (Valerie Kern/Alaska Public Media)

None of the Catholic priests reported to have been involved in sexual misconduct in a 50-year review of records released last month by the Anchorage Archdiocese was ever convicted of a crime. There is also no indication the report has prompted any new criminal investigations since its release.

The report, made public Jan. 16, is based on an independent commission’s review of the church’s records. It lists 14 employees of the Anchorage Archdiocese, 13 of whom it says engaged in sexual misconduct with minors or vulnerable adults and one who was caught viewing child pornography. The allegations span from 1956 to as recent as 2015.

Read our continuing coverage of priest abuses in Alaska

Ten of the men are alleged to have engaged in misconduct while in Alaska. Four are accused of misconduct elsewhere, after serving in Alaska.

Many dioceses across the country are making similar admissions.

Half of those listed in the Anchorage report have died since the abuse is alleged to have occurred. None of them ever faced criminal charges in Alaska, though at least two were sued along with the Anchorage Archdiocese.

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In releasing the report and the men’s names, officials with the Anchorage Archdiocese say they’re doing their best to encourage unknown victims to come forward and to right the wrongs of the past, while still protecting the privacy of the victims. They did not specify whether efforts had been made to report each allegation of abuse to law enforcement at the time the allegation was received.

Critics say the announcement is too little, too late.

Zach Hiner, the executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, says the report is lacking crucial details.

“You know, when were the allegations first received? And what did church officials do in response?” Hiner said. “You know, that kind of information, I think, is pretty critical to understanding exactly what went wrong, and when we know what went wrong, we know how to prevent it in the future, right?”

SNAP, in a statement, also noted two priests missing from the list. Both were employed by the Anchorage Archdiocese and were accused of sexual misconduct after leaving Alaska.

Related: 33 Jesuit priests named in report on abuse claims in Alaska

In an interview, officials with the Anchorage Archdiocese said the commission that compiled the report, based on the church’s records, did not determine there was credible evidence of sexual misconduct by either of the two men, and so they were not included in the report.

The Anchorage Archdiocese officials also refused to reveal the sorts of details SNAP said were needed. They also declined to go through the allegations case by case to discuss how each of them was handled, though they said there are safeguards in place to prevent abuse now.

At the time of the report’s release in January, the bishop currently in charge of the Anchorage Archdiocese, Andrew Bellisario, apologized to the victims and spoke generally about the report’s contents. After a request for a follow-up interview, the Archdiocese offered its chancellor, John Harmon, who described his role as an operations manager.

Harmon tried to answer a question about whether law enforcement was ever contacted at the time of any of the allegations:

“I’m not sure exactly how each of the different one(s) was handled, but it’s my understanding that everything was handled by the policies and procedures that we had in place at the time,” Harmon said.

When asked to clarify, Harmon did not directly answer a question about whether his response meant that the Archdiocese’s policies and procedures did not require telling law enforcement at the time.

Related: Diocese of Juneau finds ‘credible evidence’ of sexual misconduct by Southeast Alaska priests

“I think this goes back to sort of what the bishop said in his comments when he had his press release, about how, over time, how situations were handled,” Harmon said. “But again, as it relates to — and he did mention this — that the independent commission was given a standard that they were to look at, as it relates to looking into all of our files, all of our personnel files, and then coming up with a list of recommendations for publication. And those names were published, and again, the files were reviewed, and the report is out there.”

Bellisario, a Juneau bishop overseeing the Anchorage Archdiocese, had said that all of the cases that “needed to be reported” were reported to law enforcement at the time, or, in some cases, “much later.”

At this point, it appears unlikely that there will be any criminal charges or convictions related to the archdiocese report on sexual misconduct.

A spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Law said the department received the same report that was released publicly and that there is not enough information in it to properly evaluate any particular case.

Department officials declined a request for a recorded interview, but in a written statement, officials with the department’s Criminal Division said new charges would be impossible for some, because many of the accused have long since passed away. Additionally, the statement said prosecutors face time limits on when they can bring forward a case, “even if sufficient evidence exists to take action, which has not yet been determined in any of these matters.”

Anchorage Police Department spokesman MJ Thim said the department’s detectives are aware of the archdiocese report.

“As with any criminal case, we will always review any new information to see if it can be used in an investigation,” Thim said in a written statement.

Officials with the Anchorage Archdiocese said they have not been contacted by any law enforcement officials seeking additional information since the report’s release.

Alaska Public Media’s Tegan Hanlon contributed reporting to this story.

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at Read more about Casey here

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