When Gina Maisto Smith, a veteran child abuse prosecutor with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, was hired by the Archdiocese to review all cases of living priests accused of child abuse in the Archdiocese in the aftermath of the 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report on clergy sex abuse, Philadelphia Catholics might be excused if they thought little would come as a result.
They would have been wrong.
Almost immediately after her appointment, upon her recommendation 21 priests were placed on administrative leave and more followed shortly after.
“They’ve given me the flexibility and freedom to put together a multidisciplinary team with unfettered access to documents, files and people,” she said shortly after. “It’s been swift, and it’s been transparent.”
As a result of the thorough investigation accomplished by Smith and her associates, on May 4, Archbishop Chaput announced the permanent removal of five suspended priests and the restoration of faculties of three others, and that is just the beginning.
After her appointment Smith quickly put together what is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT) which would examine all the cases of priests on administrative leave who had allegations of sexual abuse of minors or violations of the archdiocesan Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries against them.
Members of the MDT in addition to Smith were Dr. Maria D. McColgan, director of the Child Protection Program at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children; Thomas McDevitt, a 36-year Philadelphia police veteran who commanded the Special Victims Unit/Special Investigations Unit; Harry Young, a 40-year Philadelphia police investigator who specialized in child abuse and child sexual assault cases; Barry Zakireh, a licensed psychologist and director of the Joseph J. Peters Institute who has wide experience in the evaluation of sexual offenders including clergy; Barbara Ziv, a forensic psychiatrist with specialization in perpetrators and victims of sexual abuse, and Leslie Gomez, a former child abuse prosecutor with more than 14 years’ experience.
The investigations involved interviewing witnesses, victims and the accused priests themselves with no archdiocesan legal counsel involved in the process.
At the May 4 news conference Smith estimated the team gathered more than 400,000 documents, interviewed 227 witnesses and combed records of parishes and schools while they considered allegations of child sexual abuse tracing back as far as four decades.
“We took care to develop a process that is thorough, impartial and fair,” she said. “We recognize that allegations of child sexual abuse can be incendiary in nature. The stakes are high for both the accused and the accuser. Moreover, most child sexual cases turn on credibility — evaluating word against word. Accordingly, the process must be painfully detailed. Its integrity is demonstrated by an exhaustive search for corroboration — a synthesis of witness interviews, documents and additional available evidence, all of which must be analyzed in light of the expertise of the multidisciplinary team.”