Philadelphia archdiocese decides fate of 8 priests placed on leave
By Benjamin Mann
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput at a press conference on abuse cases in Philadelphia, May 4, 2012.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput at a press conference on abuse cases in Philadelphia, May 4, 2012.

.- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced a resolution in the cases of eight priests placed on leave after a grand jury report last year, removing five of them from ministry permanently.

“The decisions announced today reflect our commitment to protect children, assist victims, restore the integrity of the priesthood and provide evidence to the broader community that it can have confidence in these outcomes,” Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput told reporters at a May 4 press conference. 

A total of 26 priests were suspended from ministry by Archbishop Chaput's predecessor, Cardinal Justin  F. Rigali, in response to allegations of sex abuse or inappropriate behavior in a 2011 grand jury report.

On Friday, Archbishop Chaput announced that three of these priests had been “found suitable for ministry,” after a review by an archdiocesan board that was reformed in response to the grand jury findings.

“Five priests will not return to ministry although they retain the right to appeal this decision to the Holy See,” Archbishop Chaput stated. The case of a ninth priest, who has died, “cannot be concluded.”

In his remarks to reporters, the archbishop stressed his commitment to the review process begun by his predecessor. He also noted that the archdiocese is cooperating fully with law enforcement, and referring all cases to the local district attorney.

A separate team of child protection experts, including veteran abuse prosecutor Gina Maisto, also offered guidance to the archdiocese in examining the cases. Members of the two groups included doctors, police officers, experienced prosecutors, and victims' advocates.

“In every decision,” the archbishop recounted, “I relied on the counsel of more than 20 experts in two separate bodies.”

“I reviewed each case personally and made the final decision regarding every one of them.”

As he announced the first eight outcomes of the review process, Archbishop Chaput also explained the status of the other pending cases.

“When Cardinal Rigali began this process more than a year ago, he pledged to do an exhaustive review of all these cases,” the cardinal's successor recalled.

“The task of investigating past allegations of sexual misconduct is complex and time-consuming. It cannot be hurried or abbreviated without violating the whole purpose of the review.”

Of the 26 total cases, six are still in the hands of law enforcement and cannot yet be investigated by the Church. In two further cases, the archdiocese is still conducting its review after receiving clearance from police.

This leaves nine further cases in addition to the nine outcomes announced on May 4. Internal investigations have been completed in these cases, and Archbishop Chaput said the results “will be announced very soon” after a review by the archdiocesan board and the archbishop's final decision.

During the past year, the archbishop said, Church officials have “taken many steps … to reform and improve the way the archdiocese lives up to its duty to protect children.”

These steps include the creation of a dedicated investigative office, headed by a former Philadelphia deputy district attorney, to ensure legal compliance and children's safety. A separate office has also been established for the care of victims, headed by an former official of the district attorney's office.

At the parish level, Victim Services Consultant Mary Achilles will be leading an initiative entitled “Honesty, Healing, and Hope in Christ,” which seeks to support victims and others affected by abuse while building safe environments for the future.

As he pledged to protect the faithful and learn from the past, Archbishop Chaput acknowledged many Catholics' anger and loss of trust over the scandal of abuse by clergy.

“When a child is harmed,” he reflected, “the Church has failed.”

“I pray – and I do believe – that the lessons of the last year have made our Church humbler, wiser, and a more vigilant guardian of our people’s safety,” the archbishop said. “That is our commitment today, tomorrow, and permanently.”

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