California's Franciscan Order to Release Names of Priests Accused of Sexual Misconduct with Minors

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Brothers of the Franciscan Friars of the Province of Santa Barbara. (Franciscan Friars, Santa Barbara Province)

In response to reignited public outrage over the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, a number of independent religious orders are publishing lists of priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors.

Father David Gaa, head of the Franciscans Friars of the Province of Santa Barbara, which oversees more than 140 priests — or brothers, as they're called — in California and neighboring states, is leading this effort within his order, combing through records going back as far as 1950.

Franciscans keep their own archives and run their order independently from dioceses.

Gaa, whose official title is Provincial Minister, said he knows the church has a history of releasing incomplete lists of accused brothers, and because of that, trust has not been repaired.

“I clearly understand the outrage," he said. "It's been a colossal failure of the leadership of the hierarchy of the Catholic church. It’s the last chance, the last opportunity, to make sure things are transparent and that the truth just comes out."


Gaa hired an outside firm to search through his order's extensive archives, going back more than 60 years, a major undertaking that's gone slower than expected. The list of names of brothers accused of sexual misconduct with minors is now slated to be released at the end of this month, Gaa said.

Victims’ advocates expect that list could include dozens of names, many of them deceased. Gaa said he knows of as many as eight accused brothers under his watch, seven of them in California.

“Of the seven, five admit it," he said. "And two deny the allegations."

Gaa said all the allegations against these brothers were made prior to 1994. All of them are now in their 70s and 80s. But he added that he “would not argue they have been punished enough.”

Like other orders and Catholic dioceses across the country, accused brothers were traditionally moved around, and most allegations were handled internally, in an effort by the order to police itself.

“Regardless if they've done something extremely evil, they have to live some place," Gaa said. "They are human beings. I can move to have them expelled from the order, and then they go their merry way, and there's no monitoring at all.”

He said instead of kicking accused brothers out of the order, they've typically been monitored by their superiors.

“It’s usually the superior of the house, who lives with them on a daily basis, sees them if they go to prayer, sees them if they go to dinner," Gaa said, adding that this protocol is currently being reviewed and updated.

He said the accused brothers aren't allowed to celebrate mass or be around parishes with schools.

But some argue that the accused are often protected under a shroud of secrecy, so much so that other brothers in the community often don't even know who they are.

Gaa said he understands the criticism, but he's also hesitant to publicize their whereabouts for fear of jeopardizing their safety.

Tim Hale, an attorney who has filed numerous suits against the Franciscan order, disagrees.

“I understand his concerns about potential violence being directed at those men; they deserve to be safe as well," he said. "But my number one concern is the safety of today's kids. These are men who are known to pose a threat to children. Their names should be identified, their addresses should be identified, and really what they've been accused of should be identified as well."