Guest commentary: 'Spotlight' shows why transparency is needed in Catholic Church

By Tim Stier
Oakland Tribune
November 11, 2015

The movie "Spotlight" opens in Bay Area theatres on Friday. It tells the story of the Boston Globe's Spotlight investigation team's reporting in 2001 and 2002 on the clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston and its cover-up by Cardinal Law.

To many, this movie will draw unwanted publicity to the Catholic Church. As a priest of the Roman Catholic diocese of Oakland in voluntary exile since 2005, I welcome this publicity.

I hope this movie shines the spotlight on Oakland and San Francisco so the full extent of abuse and cover-up right here in the Bay Area may be known.

For the truth is that if the same spotlight were to shine on the Catholic Church in San Francisco and Oakland, the news would be just as heartbreaking and horrifying as in Boston.

The reason the Boston Globe Spotlight team of journalists was able to shine such light on the Catholic Church in Boston was due to the courage of abuse survivors, journalists and a judge who forced the Archdiocese of Boston to open its secret files on scores of criminal priests.

The Diocese of Oakland has yet to publicly name all the priests, both diocesan and religious, who abused children and teens throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The most complete report to date was a four-part series published in the Oakland Tribune and its sister papers beginning on March 31, 2008, and now available online.

The Diocese of Oakland, headed by Bishop Michael Barber, and the Archdiocese of San Francisco, led by Archbishop Salvadore Cordileone, are good at apologizing but terrible at transparency.

Cordileone and Barber want us to believe that the abuse crisis is a regrettable event in the past. Would that were so.

I have written to Bishop Barber asking him to publicly name the 43 credibly accused priests and brothers who served in parishes and high schools throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties. No reply. I've offered to meet with him. No reply. The priorities of Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco are well-known.

These days, the Oakland Diocese is preoccupied with fund-raising to ease its burden of debt accrued in part from paying off abuse survivors. Even as Catholics of the East Bay are asked to donate generously to bail out the diocese, they are still not being told the full extent of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, and the criminal cover-up by bishops and their assistants.

The hundreds of victims of rape and sexual assault perpetrated by priests and brothers here in the Bay Area deserve more than apologies; they and their families deserve full disclosure, including details about how bishops on both sides of the Bay repeatedly moved known abusers from parish to parish where many abused again.

The justice and transparency abuse survivors were promised have yet to fully happen. The stakes in this crisis are very high: children and youth won't be safe in Catholic parishes and schools until transparency and structural change are fully realized.

Tim Stier is a parish priest in voluntary exile from active ministry since 2005. He is an Oakland resident and author of "Crying Out For Justice Full-throated And Unsparingly: A Parish Priest's Story." Contact him at













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