Clergy Abuse Crisis in Philadelphia: Initial Results of Year-Long Review

At a news conference on Friday, May 4, 2012, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia announced that “the work of the special team investigating the 26 priests publicly placed on leave by Cardinal Rigali last year is now largely done.” He recalled that “the 2011 grand jury report challenged the Archdiocese to review certain cases of past allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy as well as some cases involving violations of the Archdiocese’s Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries.”

The 26 cases were examined by “a veteran Philadelphia child abuse prosecutor, Mrs. Gina Maisto Smith, and a multi-disciplinary team of recognized experts in the field of child protection,” whose findings were then studied by the recently expanded Archdiocesan Review Board.

Archbishop Chaput, who was appointed to Philadelphia only eight months ago, emphasized the Church’s pastoral concern for the victims of clergy sexual abuse. 

No lesson from the abuse scandal is more important than the understanding that the people who suffer most are the victims. Over the years, as part of my ministry as a bishop, I have met personally with many victims and this humbling experience has taught me that no words can sufficiently describe the hurt a victim feels. I have in the past and again today share my deep sadness and again offer a heartfelt apology on behalf of the Archdiocese to all victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Of those 26 priests who have been on administrative leave for more than a year, three have now been found suitable for active ministry, one has died, and five have been found unfit (but may appeal to Rome).  Charges of sexual abuse of a minor were substantiated in the case of one of the five priests who were judged unsuitable for active ministry.  The substantiated charges against the other four priests concerned violations of the Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries. 

The cases of the remaining seventeen priests are still at some stage of the review process:  clearance by law enforcement (6), internal investigation (2), or examination by the Archdiocesan Review Board and decision by the Archbishop (9).  The results in these cases “will be announced very soon.”

Archbishop Chaput explained that he could not provide “considerable detail about these cases” because of the need to balance “transparency” against “the pain already felt by victims,” which the Church does not wish to compound.  “It’s important for the victims themselves to control to whom, when, and how extensively they disclose their accounts, and we support whatever that decision may be.” 

One purpose of the news conference was to describe “significant changes in our process for investigating sexual abuse allegations and violations of The Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries.”  The investigative function has been separated from the Archdiocesan victim assistance program.  A separate Office for Investigations, headed by a former Philadelphia Deputy District Attorney, will ensure immediate referral to civil law enforcement and thorough investigations that can be part of the process required by the Church’s canon law.  

The identities of the priests whose cases have been concluded were published in the secular media that same day but were not mentioned at the news conference, which focused instead on general procedures and policies.  Despite the amount of bureaucratic detail, Archbishop Chaput never lost sight of the human and pastoral dimensions of the crisis.  Before turning the podium over to Mrs. Smith, the Archbishop offered “one more thought”: 

Catholics have struggled with confusion and anger. When a child is harmed, the Church has failed. When trust is lost, the Church has failed. When the whole community suffers as a result, the Church has failed. We can’t change the past. But 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. That is our commitment today, tomorrow, and permanently.


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About Michael J. Miller 127 Articles
Michael J. Miller Michael J. Miller translated Priesthood and Diaconate by Gerhard Ludwig Müller for Ignatius Press and Eucharist and Divorce: A Change in Doctrine? for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute.