ST. LOUIS — A Roman Catholic Jesuit province that covers 13 Midwestern and Southern states, Puerto Rico and Belize said Friday that it has found "credible allegations" of sexual abuse involving 42 priests and other ministry leaders dating back to 1955.
The Jesuits U.S. Central and Southern Province, which is based in St. Louis, also released the men's names. Most are deceased and others are no longer Jesuits. A spokeswoman said four are still members of the province but are not active in ministry and live in supervised housing.
The list names mostly priests, but it also names some brothers, who serve some ministry functions but who are not ordained, and "scholastics," which are men training to become priests.
Jesuits West, a province that covers several Western states, was expected to announce a similar list later Friday, and a third province, the Midwest Province, is due to release the findings of its internal examination on Dec. 17.
The Jesuits are a Catholic order of priests and brothers that includes more than 16,000 men worldwide. Jesuits also operate several high schools and universities, including St. Louis University and Marquette University. Jesuits take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and many also take a vow of allegiance to the Pope.
The Jesuits have previously settled lawsuits across the country, including a $166 million settlement involving about 500 abuse claims in Oregon in 2011, which was one of the largest settlements involving clergy abuse allegations.
U.S. Central and Southern Provincial Ronald Mercier, who heads the province, said the "storm" facing the Catholic Church must be confronted with transparency.
"Words cannot possibly suffice to express our sorrow and shame for what occurred, our promise of prayers for healing, and our commitment to work with them," Mercier said in a statement. "Caring for these survivors — and preventing any such future events — must be our focus as we move forward."
Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul, Minnesota-based attorney who specializes in clergy abuse lawsuits, said publishing the list was the "right thing to do," and it empowers victims to both come forward and move ahead in their lives.
"To a survivor who has been abused by one of these people, it helps them realize, 'I'm not the only one, I'm not alone,'" Anderson said. "It can inspire them to get help, to share the secret, and to find a better way of life."
David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, urged the Jesuits to "explain exactly when each of these allegations was deemed credible. That way Catholics will know just how many months, years or decades church officials have kept these men and their crimes hidden."
Cases of sexual abuse by priests and other religious leaders have come under increased scrutiny since August, when a grand jury report in Pennsylvania detailed decades of abuse and cover-up in six dioceses. The report alleged that more than 1,000 children were abused over several years by about 300 priests.
The report led to new examinations in several states. Last week alone, the Catholic Diocese of Springfield (Illinois) released the names of 19 priests and other clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct dating back to the 1930s; the Archdiocese of Omaha (Nebraska) released a list of 38 priests and clergy dating back to 1956 West Virginia's archdiocese released the names of 18 priests or deacons credibly accused of child sexual abuse since 1950; and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in New Mexico announced it would file for bankruptcy protection after settling numerous abuse claims.
Pope Francis has convened a summit for Feb. 21-24 at the Vatican to address ways to prevent sexual abuse.
The list of names in the Jesuits U.S. Central and Southern Province was compiled as part of an internal investigation, but the province said it has hired a consulting firm to perform an independent review of the nearly 3,000 personnel files that date back to Jan. 1, 1955. Those findings are expected by the spring.
The Jesuits U.S. Central and Southern Province covers Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, southern Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Texas, Tennessee and Oklahoma, along with Puerto Rico and Belize.
Since the Catholic Church clergy abuse scandal broke nearly two decades ago, Jesuits have developed policies aimed at ensuring the safety of children and to better respond to allegations, church leaders said.