For the first time, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno will publicly name the names of San Joaquin Valley priests accused of sexual misconduct.
But don't expect it to happen anytime soon. It's going to take awhile for investigators to review voluminous archives.
"To ensure that this task is objectively completed in a timely manner, we will undergo an extensive review of our clergy in the spring of 2019," said Bishop Armando Ochoa, speaking at a news conference at diocese headquarters in Fresno on Friday.
The Catholic Church is still in crisis because of its mishandling of scores of cases in which priests abused minors.
Why is the Diocese of Fresno just now coming around to taking this action?
After last year's horrific revelations that more than 300 priests in Pennsylvania sexually molested children, coupled with the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and credible allegations that he, too, sexually abused others, the diocese was finally spurred to action.
"It shook all of us very deeply and emotionally," said diocese spokeswoman Teresa Dominguez.
After meeting with various diocesan groups, Ochoa said he came to the conclusion that a thorough review of all files concerning priests and deacons in possession of the diocese should be conducted, dating back to 1922, when the territory was the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno.
The diocese is bringing in a former FBI executive assistant director, Kathleen McChesney of Kinsale Management Consulting, to review the clergy files. She will forward her findings to the diocese, which in turn will review and analyze it. Then, sometime this summer, the diocese will decide which names to make public.
The Diocese of Fresno is huge: It comprises 87 parishes in eight counties, including Kern, Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Inyo, Madera, Merced and Mariposa, and it has an estimated 1.2 million Catholics, according to Dominguez. Unfortunately, several priests who have served at various churches in Kern County have been accused of sexual misconduct.
I asked the diocese to tell me how many priests have been prosecuted and how many lawsuits have been filed against it.
"We do not have an actual accounting of it; we are reviewing that information now," said Dominguez.
According to BishopAccountability.org, a website that tracks accused priests, 11 priests in the Diocese of Fresno have either been accused, convicted or sued for sexual misconduct. Several of them served at various Catholic churches in Kern County at some point.
The most recent example is Robert Gamel, convicted and sentenced last year to four years in state prison for possession of child pornography while he was pastor at a church in Los Banos.
Gamel is no stranger to Kern County, having served at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and others around Kern County. Dominguez said Gamel will never return to the ministry.
It's unclear just what type of information in a priest's file may be enough to have him named publicly. Dominguez said McChesney will be looking for any type of behavior that would have placed a minor or a vulnerable adult in harm's way — either a documented incident or just behavior that "raised people's concerns," she said.
The Diocese of Fresno is not alone in taking this step. Numerous other dioceses around the country have released the names of priests accused of sexual misconduct.
In taking this action, Dominguez said, the Diocese of Fresno is trying to do the right thing by letting victims of clergy sex abuse see that the diocese takes the matter seriously.
"If you know of any type of abuse that ever took place in a church, do not assume that the church was informed about it," she said. "Please come forward."