Philadelphia cardinal places 21 priests on leave following abuse allegations

Cardinal Justin Rigali CNA US Catholic News 2 17 11 Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia

Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia has placed 21 priests in the archdiocese on administrative leave, following investigations into a grand jury report that there were credible abuse allegations against the clergy members.

“These have been difficult weeks” since the release of the report, Cardinal Rigali said in a March 8 statement. Difficult “most of all for victims of sexual abuse, but also for all Catholics and for everyone in our community.”

The grand jury report – issued on Feb. 10 – charged that there were 37 archdiocesan priests still in ministry who had credible allegations of abuse against them but were still in roles that brought them into contact with children.

The report also stated that Msgr. William Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s secretary of clergy under previous Philadelphia archbishop Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, endangered the welfare of children by allowing “dangerous” priests to remain in positions with access to children.

In his initial reaction to the report, Cardinal Rigali said on Feb. 10 that there were “no archdiocesan priests in ministry today who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them.”

Within a week of the release of the grand jury report last month, the archdiocese hired Gina Maisto Smith, a former Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney who has prosecuted child sexual assault cases for nearly two decades. Smith, a partner at the law firm of Ballard Spahr, conducted an initial review of all 37 cases.

“Cardinal Rigali asked me to assist him in responding to the concerns raised in the grand jury report,” Smith said on March 8. “I was given the unlimited freedom to do a thorough review with full access to all files and documents.”

After Smith conducted her review, Cardinal Rigali announced on March 8 that 21 of the 37 priests referenced in the report have been placed on administrative leave.

The Philadelphia Archdiocese reported that of the 16 remaining priests who were not placed on leave, eight were cleared and did not warrant further investigation.

Of the remaining eight priests, four had previously been placed on leave in earlier weeks, two now serve in religious orders outside the archdiocese and two are incapacitated to serve and are no longer in active ministry.

Cardinal Rigali said that now that Smith's initial examination has concluded, “I have accepted her initial recommendations.”

The next step will involve Smith and a team of experts – including pediatricians, forensic psychiatrists, psychologists, and child advocacy workers –  investigating the cases more thoroughly.

Cardinal Rigali underscored that the move to put the 21 priests on administrative leave serves as an “interim” measure, and not a final determination or judgment. 

“I know that for many people their trust in the Church has been shaken,” he added. “I pray that the efforts of the archdiocese to address these cases of concern and to re-evaluate our way of handling allegations will help rebuild that trust in truth and justice.”

“As we strive to move forward today,” Cardinal Rigali said, “I wish to express again my sorrow for the sexual abuse of minors committed by any members of the Church, especially clergy. I am truly sorry for the harm done to the victims of sexual abuse, as well as to the members of our community who suffer as a result of this great evil and crime.”

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