Several Roman Catholic dioceses in New England announced Wednesday that they were joining an independent system for reporting misconduct or abuse by church leaders.
The system, started this year by the Diocese of Boston, was joined by the Diocese of Manchester in New Hampshire, the Diocese of Burlington in Vermont and the Diocese of Portland in Maine, as well as several dioceses in Massachusetts.
The names are accompanied by resources on the website for survivors and a section for anyone to report church abuse.
"With the controls we have put in place and continuing vigilance, our diocese's procedures have created a safer Church in Maine. But there are always opportunities to improve the ways in which we protect against possible abuse in the many forms in which it can arise," Bishop Robert Deeley, of the Diocese of Portland, said in a statement. "I am pleased that the new, third-party system establishes a clear and independent system way for people to report misconduct by bishops."
However, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, said there was a "glaring flaw" in the system in that allegations are not made public.
"The Catholic Church has already demonstrated that it cannot be trusted to police itself. By keeping the accusations under wraps, the process does not encourage victims, witnesses and whistleblowers with additional information to come forward," Melanie Sakoda, the survivor support coordinator for the group, said in an emailed statement. "People are often reluctant to be the first but will step up when they know someone else has come forward. The best place for allegations of sexual abuse is still in the hands of law enforcement."
The announcement comes two weeks after the Diocese of Manchester posted on its website the names of 73 priests dating to 1950 accused of sexually abusing children. Of those on the list, 50 are deceased. The other 23 have either left the ministry or are prohibited from public ministry as a priest. The names are accompanied by resources on the website for survivors and a section for anyone to report church abuse.
The Vermont diocese is expected to publish a similar report soon.
Hosted on the EthicsPoint website, the system is confidential and allows alleged victims to file abuse claims anonymously either by phone or email. All claims will be reported to law enforcement and apostolic nuncio as necessary. Alleged victims get a case number and can track their claims.
In June, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a measure creating a third-party national reporting system for abuse claims against bishops. It follows a decision by Pope Francis in May to issue a church law that requires all priests and nuns to report sexual abuse by clergy, as well as cover-ups by their superiors to church authorities.
"The bishops of the Boston Province felt that this was something that could be done now without having to wait for the national rollout," Bishop Christopher Coyne, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, said in an emailed statement. "I wholeheartedly agreed with this as I did not see a good reason to delay this any longer. I do not see this as replacing the national reporting system but as complementary."