Atlanta’s Catholic leader hasn’t posted names of pedophile priests

Concerned that some victims of sexual abuse by clerics still may not have come forward, advocates have been pressing Atlanta’s Catholic leader to post the names of accused child predators on the archdiocese website.

But after a year of pressure from the nationwide Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, Archbishop Wilton Gregory has yet to act. Nor has he explained why he won’t post the names of any priests, deacons, brothers or nuns accused of molesting children who spent time working in the Atlanta area, whether the allegations arose here or not.

The group has already identified six who fit the profile, including two who worked at Marist School in Brookhaven. One was a science teacher and the other a school counselor, the school’s president said in an email.

“Archbishop Gregory has been doing the bare minimum,” said SNAP President Barbara Blaine, who was molested by a priest as a teen. “We’re asking Archbishop Gregory to be the shepherd and to reach out to the lost sheep.”

She was among about a half dozen SNAP activists, most of them victims, who staged a small protest earlier this week on the sidewalk outside the Cathedral of Christ the King in Buckhead, holding up posters that said “Protect children” and “Keep kids safe.”

As of Wednesday, Gregory hadn’t responded beyond a short written statement, saying in part “we regret any instance of abuse and take every allegation seriously.”

About 30 bishops across the country have already posted their abuser lists, but usually as a result of civil litigation. Those lists have included names that had never been publicized, where accusations were handled internally then locked away in church archives. Publishing names could lead to more litigation and negative publicity for the church.

“Our experience has been that unless they’re faced with a legal gun, they never do it voluntarily,” said Patrick Wall, a canon lawyer and former Catholic priest and monk who is now a researcher for a Minnesota law firm that has represented thousands of molestation victims. “It’s disingenuous for the church to come up with a reason not to produce the data for the public.”

Victims often think they were the only ones targeted, but seeing their abuser’s name can embolden them to come forward, Wall said, noting that the church has detailed data on abusers from a 2004 report it commissioned by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Through its own research, SNAP has identified at least six former priests accused of abusing children who were, at some point, stationed in the Atlanta area.

One of them, William Groves, pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a teenage boy in 1989 in Ignacio, Colo. After being sentenced to probation, Groves went through sex offender treatment and drug and alcohol counseling in Decatur in 1990.

He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he was a raging drunk at the time, not a pedophile, and he never abused any other children. He denied allegations by two other men who in 2009 sued him and the Catholic Diocese of Pueblo, Colo., alleging that Groves sexually molested them as children in the 1980s. The cases settled out of court for $175,000 each.

Groves said, though, he doesn’t object to the archbishop posting a list with his name on it, though he doesn’t think dead priests should be included.

“I don’t have anything to hide,” said Groves, 64, who now works as an office manager for a spiritual center in Franklin, N.C. “This little church that I work for, they’re perfectly aware of it. They knew from day one about this history.”

SNAP also identified:

  • Charles Bartles – A Jesuit priest who is now deceased. He worked as a science teacher at Marist from 1972-1978.
  • Charles Coyle – Another Jesuit priest, also deceased. One of his alleged victims committed suicide. He spent time at the Ignatius House in Sandy Springs in the early 1990s, according to the group’s research of media accounts, the Official Catholic Directory and the abuse-documenting website Bishop-Accountability.org.
  • Jonathan Franklin – A monk who committed suicide after being accused of assaulting an altar boy in Florida. He once worked in Atlanta and Savannah.
  • Robert Huneke – Now deceased, he was implicated in a Suffolk County, N.Y., grand jury report. He worked as a guidance counselor at Marist in 2000-2001.
  • Anthony Jablonowski – A former Wyoming priest who pleaded no contest to a charge of molesting a 17-year-old boy. He was also accused of conducting rituals of penance that involved hanging young men upside down – gagged and blindfolded with cords tied to their genitals – and flogging them. He worked at St. Mark Catholic Church in Clarksville in the 1970s.

Father John Harhager, president of Marist School, said it had no reports of any incidents involving students during the years that Bartles and Huneke worked there. Huneke was hired at his wife’s recommendation, Harhager wrote, and left after a year. Then the school learned from one of his victims that he had a record of child molestation in the diocese of Rockville Centre, New York.

“The school met with and terminated Mrs. Huneke and provided prompt notice of the facts to our families,” Harhager said, adding that he wasn’t at the school at the time.

But on Bartles, Harhager wrote, “We were surprised to hear of the allegations against him, as we see no indication in our files of any untoward behavior.”

Neither Gregory nor the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta have responded to interview requests from the AJC. “Our archdiocese has one of the most stringent safe environment policies in the country, including zero tolerance for abuse,” the written statement says.

The Atlanta Archdiocese faced other scandals involving pedophile priests in the 1980s and early 1990s. In one case, 10 women said a priest molested them in the 1960s when they were students at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Marietta.

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