Philadelphia Archdiocese suspends 21 priests for alleged sexual abuse

Friday, March 11, 2011

Justin Cardinal Rigali

Cardinal Justin Rigali announced Tuesday that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is placing 21 priests on administrative leave following the release of a grand jury report that there were credible claims the priests had sexually abused minors. The report, released February 10, accused the archdiocese of a decades long cover up.

According to the grand jury, at least 37 priests had continued in their duties around children despite "substantial evidence of abuse against them". "We understand that accusations are not proof," the report said, "but we just cannot understand the Archdiocese's apparent absence of any sense of urgency." The grand jury had seen the files of only 20 priests, it said, and in those cases the archdiocese had dismissed credible allegations of abuse on trivial grounds, such as a victim failing to remember the year in which the priest served or the exact layout of the rectory.

The Cardinal's initial statement in reaction to the report denied there were any active priests "who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them." However, days later, he hired a former sex crimes prosecutor to review the personnel files of all those named in the grand jury's report.

Yesterday's statement placing the 21 priests on leave came more than two weeks after the grand jury released its report. Cardinal Rigali, while apologizing for the behavior of priests abusing minors, said the leaves were temporary measures until full investigations are completed.

This mass suspension for sexual abuse is notable in that it is one of the largest in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. The slow response of the Philadelphia Archdiocese to sexual abuse allegations goes against the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' own 2004 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People which says any priest with creditable allegations should be removed immediately and investigation of the case should follow.

Almost a decade ago, allegations of sexual abuse by Philadelphia priests surfaced. A grand jury report issued in 2005 detailed numerous cases of abuse allegations, some decades old, involving Philadelphia priests and the efforts of their superiors to cover up the evidence. The 2011 grand jury found that the panel formed by the archdiocese to handle the complaints in the 2005 report primarily protected the church rather than the victims.

David Clohessy, the director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), an advocacy group for survivors and their attorneys, said, "Many victims and Catholics in Philly, are left seriously wondering how effective the bishops' so-called reforms really are, if dozens and dozens of credibly accused priests in one archdiocese alone are kept in ministry for years."