Archbishop Charles Chaput announced May 4 his decisions on eight priests who had been suspended due to past allegations of clerical misconduct or child sexual abuse. Of the priests, five were “unsuitable for ministry.”
They include Msgr. Francis Feret, 75, and Fathers George Cadwallader, 58; Robert Povish, 47; John Reardon, 65; and Thomas Rooney, 61.
The three priests deemed suitable for ministry are Msgr. Michael Flood, 72, and Fathers Philip Barr, 92; and Michael Chapman, 56.
It is unclear in what capacity they will to return to active ministry, or what next steps will taken against the five who remain on administrative leave, though the Archbishop pledged they will continue to be monitored by Church authorities.
One priest who had been suspended, Father Daniel Hoy, died last July before a thorough investigation could be completed and no conclusion on his case was reached.
The eight priests were part of a group of 26 placed on administrative leave last March in response to a 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report that revealed the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s failure to address allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse of minors by some priests.
That report followed a 2005 grand jury report that first shed light on the crisis, which continues today in the form of two archdiocesan priests facing criminal charges in a landmark trial in Philadelphia.
Never before had so many priests in one diocese in the United States been placed on administrative leave in conjunction with questions of sexual misconduct. Intense speculation about the fates of 27 priests swirled throughout the Catholic community in the Archdiocese for approximately 14 months.
With the announcement at a press conference at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, the decisions on the first of those cases are now public. Most of the investigations on the remaining cases are complete, Archbishop Chaput said, and he hoped they would be made public soon.
Law enforcement authorities continue to review six of the cases, he added.
“The process of reviewing these cases was designed to ensure that 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 they can have confidence in these outcomes,” Archbishop Chaput said.
Speakers at the press conference described the thorough process that investigated each of the priest’s cases, as well as a new initiative to help all of the parishioners and priests in 266 parishes of the Archdiocese to rebuild trust and come to grips with sexual violence in the community.
Gina Maisto Smith, a former prosecutor of child sex crimes, described her work leading a team of experts from fields including law enforcement, psychology and child abuse services. She said she and her team of seven investigators gathered 400,000 documents, interviewed 227 witnesses in the U.S. and abroad, visited parishes and schools where incidents where alleged to have occurred and combed parish and public records, some stretching back 40 years ago.
“We took care to develop a process that is thorough, impartial and fair,” Smith said. “We recognize that allegations of child sexual abuse can be incendiary in nature.”
Most child sexual abuse cases, Smith said, “turn on credibility – the evaluation of word against word. Accordingly, the process must be painstakingly detailed.”
Her team did an “exhaustive search for corroboration,” she said, “a synthesis of witness interviews, documents and any additional available evidence.”
“The process could not be rushed,” she said, referring to a criticism by many Catholics in the Archdiocese over the past year concerned by the lengthy delay in the investigation process.
Once her team completed probing a priest’s case, the archdiocesan Review Board examined the case and made a recommendation for action to Archbishop Chaput.
After coming to his decisions he called each priest for discussions that he termed “very difficult – for them, less difficult for me.” Those priests informed they would be permitted to return to active ministry he said expressed their “relief and joy to serve the Church as priests.”
Also speaking at the press conference was Mary Achilles, a former victims advocate for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who led creation of a plan to help parishioners deal with the decisions on priests either returning to ministry r not, and more broadly to address the issue of sexual violence with parishioners.
Termed a “parish restoration initiative,” its intention is to help parishes deal with a widespread issue in society that has had a particularly devastating impact on the Church: child sexual abuse.
Achilles cited statistics that showed one in 6 boys and one in four girls will be sexually assaulted by age 18 in the United States. Therefore, she added, the decisions on priests accused of misconduct – either questionable behavior or a credible allegation of sexual abuse – will stir emotions that need a pastoral response.
“The Archdiocese is painfully aware of the destruction of trust experienced by Catholics in the pews. It mirrors that of adult victims of abuse,” she said, citing “past failures” of the Church to respond appropriately to the problem.
The plan, to be implemented in parishes in phases over six months, is intended to restore trust and to “empower people to recognize the pain of people, especially the pain of victims,” Achilles said.
As Archbishop Chaput said, “I’ve been in Philadelphia for less than a year, and I’ve tried as quickly as possible to understand all of the issues facing our local church. During that time, dealing with sexual abuse and protecting children has been – and will remain – a top priority for me and for the Archdiocese.
“Our actions, including these outcomes and the steps we have taken to improve our policies and procedures, show that we have learned from the past. No lesson from the abuse scandal is more important that the understanding that the people who suffer most are the victims.”