Six months ago this week (March 8), I began my service as Archbishop of Philadelphia. One of the reasons I write this weekly column is to speak directly and freely to our clergy and people.
Today is a good time to reflect on the work that’s been done so far to resolve the challenges facing the Archdiocese, and the work – a great deal of work – that still remains.
As I’ve noted in the past, when I arrived in Philadelphia I began a comprehensive financial and legal review of our archdiocesan operations. That process has been thorough and sobering. It will continue for several more months. But today we do have a far better sense of our limited resources and the scope of our problems.
I’ve shared this information in detail with our Priests’ Council, our Archdiocesan Finance Council and our newly formed Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, which I’ll focus on in my column next week. Going forward, all three of these key advisory bodies will have regular, accurate briefings on the issues we face as a Church.
In the months since last September, we’ve reorganized our legal representation; hired a new and very capable chief financial officer; developed new internal financial controls; begun the work of improving our business policies, personnel and procedures; brought the Blue Ribbon Commission’s important work to conclusion; started a new education foundation; and carried out a difficult — but necessary and fair — appeals process for schools slated to regionalize or close.
Since October I’ve appointed seven new members to our Archdiocesan Review Board to deal with allegations of clergy sexual abuse. All of them have outstanding backgrounds in law enforcement or victim assistance.
I’ve also had the good fortune of working with several people appointed by Cardinal Rigali in his final months of service who’ve done great work in addressing the problem of sexual abuse and making the Archdiocese a safe environment.
These include victims’ advocate Ms. Mary Achilles, who’s overseen the training of more than 25,000 archdiocesan clergy, staff and volunteers in identifying and reporting suspected abuse; and Ms. Leslie Davila, formerly with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, who’s reorganized and greatly improved our victim assistance efforts.
They also include Mr. Al Toczydlowski, a former Philadelphia Deputy District Attorney, who works closely with law enforcement, serves as our Delegate for Investigations, and helped develop our current abuse reporting and investigation policies; and Ms. Gina Maisto Smith, also a veteran former Philadelphia prosecutor, who has led an exhaustive review of our abuse-related policies, procedures and cases stemming from the 2011 grand jury report.
A point worth remembering is this: We need to acknowledge our failures of the past in dealing with clergy sexual abuse, and we need to help victims of that abuse to heal. We also need to acknowledge that no entity in the United States today – Catholic or otherwise – seeks more earnestly than the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to prevent abuse and to protect its people. And that commitment will only grow stronger in the years ahead.
I can’t conclude this column without noting that one item – a very painful one — remains a source of great frustration for our priests, our people and for me. More than two dozen of my brother priests who were placed on leave in the wake of last year’s grand jury report remain on administrative leave. On several different occasions, our priests have heard that these cases would end “soon.”
We’re now in March 2012, exactly one year later. Justice requires a resolution of these men’s circumstances.
Our ability to act on these cases has been limited by a number of stubborn legal and practical factors. But some of these cases are very near conclusion. My hope is that most will be completed and announced over the next eight weeks. A few will likely be delayed because of continuing legal review.
Our attorneys are committed to cooperating fully with law enforcement. In that spirit, I’ve asked them to inform the court that, unless otherwise prohibited, we intend to begin announcing the resolution of these administrative leave cases in the coming weeks.
What we’ve achieved in the last six months is small compared to what remains to be done. But it’s a start; a beginning made hopeful by the good will and kindness of our priests and our people.
I said six months ago that I was proud and grateful to be your bishop. I feel that even more strongly today. So I ask again for your prayers and your support. And as I said last September: You will have from me – now and always — all of my energy, and my whole heart.