Between $14 and $15 million. That’s how much the Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas has paid to survivors of child sexual abuse since 1995, according to Bishop George Thomas, who took over the position last year.
That number could grow should more survivors come forward after the release Friday of a list of 33 priests who worked in Las Vegas and are said to be the subjects of “credible allegations” of sexually abusing children.
“I really do have a strong sense of gratitude to the victim survivor community. I’m very deeply apologetic, truly aggrieved for the people who have been abused,” Bishop Thomas said at a news conference Friday. “I want to offer, on behalf of this diocese, a heartfelt commitment to prevent anything like this from every happening again.”
While most of the priests have died, several are alive, including Robert Petekiewicz, who was the pastor of Our Lady of Las Vegas in the mid-2000s and left amid allegations of financial misconduct, which were confirmed by an audit.
Petekiewicz’ inclusion on the list stems from “complaints brought forward by the Diocese of Brooklyn as well as complaints brought forward to the Diocese of Las Vegas.”
“Law enforcement has been advised of this conduct,” former Clark County District Attorney David Roger, who chairs the Diocesan Clergy Oversight/Independent Review Board, said of the “credible allegations” against the former priests.
Roger says no allegations of sexual abuse involving Petkiewicz were presented while he was District Attorney.
Roger said the Clergy Oversight Review Board was established by Bishop Joseph Pepe. It’s comprised of Roger, another attorney and professionals in social work, he said.
“When Bishop Thomas came on board, he came to us and said he wanted to do a complete review of every allegation of clergy misconduct with children. He said he wanted no stone left unturned and he wanted to err on the side of children,” Roger said.
Roger says the Review Board used the standard of probable cause when deeming allegations as credible.
“That is the standard of probable cause. That’s the standard law enforcement uses to arrest an individual. It’s a very low standard,” he said. “In formulating that standard and in applying it we looked at the totality of the circumstances. Has there been an admission? Has there been a civil complaint filed? Has there been a settlement?”
“After completing our review and voting we had 33 clergy members who were credibly accused,” Roger said. “Of that, 21 clergy members are deceased. Twelve members have been permanently removed from ministry.”
“Bishop Thomas has made a commitment to protect our children. He’s committed to full transparency,” Roger said. “I have a vested interest in this as well I was a prosecutor for 25 years, the last nine of which I was the elected district attorney. I presently represent over 3,000 police officers. My wife is a judge and my daughter is an 8 year-old little girl who goes to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.”
Thomas acknowledged but shrugged off the threat of defamation lawsuits against the Diocese, given the lack of formal legal charges against the former priests named as credibly accused.
He promised strict standards for evaluating seminarians, including psychological and background checks; announced counseling services for survivors; and said the Diocese will guard against complacency by adhering to audits.
“It’s been a difficult burden for the clergy to carry,” said Thomas, who noted the number of accused priests in the Las Vegas Diocese is about five percent. “So, it’s consonant with national figures with the general male population.”
“One accused priest is too many. Ninety-five percent of our clergy live lives of integrity, goodness and deep love of their people, he said. “So, I tell them do the best you can do. Don’t be saddened or sullied by the sins of others. We’ll do everything we can to be held accountable and remove this cancer from the church.”