Priest not named on credible clergy abuse list even though diocese was warned 18 years ago

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Father Richard Ahern’s name is not on the Diocese of Richmond’s list of credible child sex abusers released last month but victim’s advocates say it should be.

He has since died but he has been named by multiple accusers, was barred from holding confession with kids and was named in a court settlement. 8News has learned the Diocese of Richmond was warned about Father Ahern 18 years ago.  

In a letter to the Diocese, the alleged victim writes, “I was seduced and sexually abused by a priest in the parish. Father Ahern is the priest in question.”

That letter was faxed to the Diocese of Richmond’s Bishop at the time, Bishop Walter Francis Sullivan.

The alleged victim stated he was abused by Father Richard Ahern when he an altar boy between 1959 and 1961 at Our Lady of Angels Church in Woodbridge, Virginia.

It’s now part of the Diocese of Arlington but at the time was part of the Diocese of Richmond. This letter and memo were shared with 8News by the group Bishop Accountability.  The group maintains an international database of priests accused of abuse.

Priest's name is not on the Diocese of Richmond's list of credible clergy abusers but victim's advocates say it should be.

“We know that that letter was sent to the Bishop of Richmond, Bishop Sullivan,” says Terence McKiernan, President of Bishop Accountability.In that memo, dated May 31, 2001, a reverend in Massachusetts also warns they have an accusation of abuse against Father Ahern from the time he was in Virginia. The memo says it was made by a boy named Charles who was 11 or 12 years old at the time.

“He was my abuser back in 1962,” says David O’Regan. He is the Boston leader of SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests. 

He claims Father Ahern started abusing him when he was in the sixth grade. He told 8News it happened at a summer camp the priest ran for boys in Massachusetts. 

It was right after he left the Diocese of Richmond. Official Catholic Directories show Ahern was a priest at Our Lady Of Angels Church in the late ’50s to the early ’60s.

“He came with allegations that he had abused altar boys,” said O’Regan.

Documents from a religious order show Ahern was banned from hearing confessions with children. 8News also spoke with another possible victim who settled a case with the Diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.

Priest's name is not on the Diocese of Richmond's list of credible clergy abusers but victim's advocates say it should be.

The diocese paid him $80,000 dollars for an assault Ahern is accused of committing in a hotel room.​​​​​​​Despite the court cases, reprimands and multiple accusations, Ahern’s name appears nowhere on a list of clergy abusers. He not listed anywhere in Massachusetts or Virginia.

“It’s anything but transparent,” says O’Regan.

O’Regan says even though Father Ahern is deceased his name needs to be added to the list for the survivors.

“It helps survivors find the courage to come forward and begin their healing journey. They can say wow, I was not alone,” he says.

8News asked the Diocese of Richmond and Arlington if the allegations against Ahern were considered and if the letter or memo was reviewed when creating their list.

The Richmond Diocese tells us in part, “Out of respect for survivor’s we cannot provide details regarding either the Bishop’s process for identifying the names on the recently released clergy list or the proceedings of the Diocesan Review Board.”  

You can read the full statement here. 

Priest's name is not on the Diocese of Richmond's list of credible clergy abusers but victim's advocates say it should be.

The Diocese of Arlington tells us they have no information on Ahern but tells us “we are looking into the situation” and if an allegation is determined credible “we will add his name to our list.”​​​​​​​8News has requested an interview with Richmond Bishop, Barry Knestout, on four separate occasions since the clergy abuser list was released.  Each time our request has been denied.

Meanwhile, the local chapter of SNAP is calling for full transparency during this season of Lent.

Virginia SNAP leader Becky Ianni says the clergy abuser lists in Virginia and DC are incomplete. She says the lists should include full work histories and photos of the predators.

“I encourage church officials to reflect on the words of survivors, repent for the cover-ups of the past, and sacrifice the secrecy they have guarded so closely and make a full accounting to parents, parishioners, and the public,” says Ianni.

The office of the Virginia Attorney General encourages survivors to reach out to the Virginia Clergy Hotline to report a crime or share their experience.

The hotline accepts reports involving faith leaders from any religion or denomination and reports can be made online at www.VAClergyHotline.com or by phone to 1-833-454-9064. All tips and reports that are made to the hotline are followed up by trained investigators.

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