Richmond diocese releases list of 42 priests credibly accused of sexual abuse

RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — The Catholic Diocese of Richmond has released a list of all current and former clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse against a minor.

The list was made public on the diocese website at noon on Wednesday, Feb. 13.

It includes the names of 42 priests who have served in the diocese and "have a credible and substantiated allegation of sexual abuse involving a minor."

The diocese defines "credible and substantiated" as an allegation "supported by a preponderance of the evidence ... including, but not limited to admissions, convictions, arrests, settlements of civil claims, detailed, consistent and plausible complaints, number of victims, priest’s assignment history, adverse actions against the priest by Church authority, and whether the name was published on other lists of known abusers."

The list is broken down by where the priests have worked and where the allegations of abuse occurred (though not down to the parish). Each priest's name can be clicked for more information on their history and their current status within the church.

Of the 42, 13 are now deceased. Another eight were removed from the priesthood, five were suspended, and eight were laicized. Six were convicted of crimes. None are currently serving in ministry or in any other capacity.

The most recent incident of sexual abuse of a minor made known to the Catholic Diocese of Richmond occurred in 1993.

One of the priests on the list, Rev. James Henry McConnell, served as the priest of St. Francis of Assisi in Staunton, beginning in 1924. He left the parish in 1964 and died in 1969. The allegation occurred after his death. McConnell's history is documented in the history portion of the church's website.

Another one is the Rev. John P. Blankenship, who pleaded guilty in 2002 to sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy in 1982 while the boy and his mother went to the Church of the Sacred Heart in Prince George County to do housekeeping chores. Blankenship was given supervised probation and avoided a prison sentence. He was removed from ministry in 2002 and dismissed from the priesthood in 2007.

“To the victims and to all affected by the pain of sexual abuse, our response will always be about what we are doing, not simply what we have done. We will seek not just to be healed but will always be seeking healing. We will seek not just to be reconciled but will always be seeking reconciliation,” said the Most Rev. Barry C. Knestout, Bishop of Richmond, in a letter published along with the list.

Knestout, who became the new bishop of the diocese last year, promised to release the list.

The move comes as dioceses in more than two dozen states around the country have taken similar action since a grand jury report released in August alleged that more than 300 priests abused at least 1,000 children over seven decades in Pennsylvania.

On Wednesday, New Jersey's five Roman Catholic dioceses listed more than 180 priests who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors over a span of several decades.

After the clergy sex abuse crisis exploded in Boston in 2002, U.S. bishops adopted a series of reforms, including stricter requirements for reporting allegations to law enforcement. Since then, abuse allegations have been reported in dioceses around the country.

No interviews within parishes inside the diocese are being offered to media to allow each parish "to respectfully pray together and privately during this time," according to a press release.

If you were a victim of abuse at the hands of a priest, deacon, religious, lay employee or church volunteer, the diocese urges you to report abuse directly to law enforcement, including Child Protective Services (CPS) at 1-800-552-7096, and by calling the Attorney General’s Clergy Abuse Hotline at 1-833-454-9064.

You can also call he 24-hour confidential Victim’s Assistance Reporting number at 1-877-887-9603 or email to report sexual abuse.

Below is the full public letter from Bishop Knestout. The full list of clergy can be found here.

Letter from Bishop Knestout:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Today, consistent with my promises of transparency and accountability, I am publishing a list of clergy that have a credible and substantiated claim of sexual abuse against a minor.

I express my deep gratitude to the victims and survivors that have come forward and for your patience as we prepared this list. As your bishop, I am called to be a good shepherd, attentive to the care and needs of all our people, especially the most vulnerable. Therefore, I asked for an independent and comprehensive review of clergy personnel files, and the files from the Diocesan Safe Environment Office and the Diocesan Review Board.

By publishing this list, we can help bring about healing to those who have experienced abuse in the Church and heighten the awareness of this tragic situation.

To those who experienced abuse from clergy, I am truly, deeply sorry. I regret that you have to bear the burden of the damage you suffered at the hands of those you trusted. I am also sorry that you must carry the memory of that experience with you. Moreover, I apologize to family members and friends of the abused, and to all members of the Catholic Church.

This crisis calls us to be immersed in three aspects of reconciliation. We need to bring to light the damage that has been done by child sexual abuse in the Church in order for healing to take place. We must express our sorrow and contrition publicly and clearly to acknowledge what we have done and what we have failed to do. We must continue to demonstrate our commitment to never let this happen again. In doing so, we make known — and support with actions — our commitment to repair the damage that has been done.

To the victims and to all affected by the pain of abuse, our response will always be about what we are doing, not simply what we have done. We will seek not just to be healed but will always be seeking healing. We will seek not just to be reconciled but will always be seeking reconciliation.

Together, let our prayers guide us with God’s grace. I ask you to pray for the healing of the victims and their families. I ask you to pray for the Church. Be assured I will do all in my power to restore your trust and to make our Church an authentic witness to the Gospel now and throughout our journey to eternal life.

Sincerely in Christ,

Most Reverend Barry C. Knestout
Bishop of Richmond

The Associated Press contributed to this report.