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Posted in Local News, on December 15th, 2013

Archbishop finds two of seven priests suitable to return to ministry

By Matthew Gambino

Final decisions by Archbishop Charles Chaput on the status of seven priests swept up in the wave of suspensions following the 2011 Philadelphia Grand Jury Report on sexual abuse of minors were announced Sunday, Dec. 15 in a statement by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The priests have been on administrative leave since March 2011, following the grand jury report the previous month. While on leave the priests have not been permitted to exercise their public priestly ministry including administering the sacraments, wear clerical clothing or present themselves publicly as priests.

The archbishop, in consultation with the Archdiocesan Professional Responsibility Review Board, deemed two priests suitable to return to ministry. They are Father Francis J. Schlett, 70, who last served at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Penndel before his retirement in 2005; and Father Zachary W. Navit, 46, who was last director of the archdiocesan Office of Special Projects.

The archdiocese said in its statement and accompanying materials that a “rigorous investigative process” found that Father Navit “more likely than not” violated “The Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries,” the archdiocese’s code of conduct for all church employees and volunteers, including clergy.

Nevertheless, the statement said, “there is no evidence that he poses a danger to children, and there is no indication he would engage in a pattern of behavior that would necessitate his removal from ministry.”

One of the priests Archbishop Chaput decided was not suitable to return to ministry is Father Michael A. Chapman, 58.

The former pastor of the now-closed Ascension of Our Lord Parish in North Philadelphia was found to have a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.

Father Chapman had been found suitable for ministry on May 4, 2012, after an allegation that he violated the code of conduct was found to be unsubstantiated.

After that time, however, the archdiocese received a new allegation that he had sexually abused a minor. The information was immediately turned over to law enforcement, per archdiocesan policy, and Father Chapman was again placed on leave.

At no time, the archdiocese said, was Father Chapman placed in active ministry since his March 2011 suspension.

Four other priests were deemed unsuitable to return to ministry. They were all found to have violated the archdiocese’s code of conduct, not to have sexually abused a minor.

The priests and the last parish where they served prior to their suspensions include: Father Mark E. Fernandes, 40, chaplain at Grandview Hospital in Sellersville with residence at St. Agnes Parish, Sellersville; Father Joseph M. Glatts, 75, SS. Simon and Jude Parish, West Chester; Father Stephen B. Perzan, 68, St. Helena Parish, Philadelphia; and Father Peter J. Tolucci, 54, St. Patrick Parish, Malvern.

(See the history of parish assignments for each priest and other details on the announcement here.)

The priests will have no public ministry in the archdiocese but they have the right to appeal the decision to the Holy See at the Vatican.

Because Father Chapman was found to have a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a child, if he appeals the archbishop’s decision or if his appeal is unsuccessful, he could be laicized (removed from the clerical state) or live a life of prayer and penance.

Announcements were made at the parishes this weekend where the seven priests last served prior to their suspensions, with counselors made available for parishioners.

The archdiocese committed to continuing its initiative “Honesty, Healing and Hope in Christ: Confronting Sexual Violence in Our Archdiocese,” which was introduced in May 2012.

Once a case is resolved the initiative begins at the parish level and consists of four phases over six months. Its purpose is to address the wide variety of reactions, thoughts and feelings that may be experienced as a result of the announcement.

The program identifies three primary groups: the victims of the allegation or violation of the code of conduct, the parishioners who include families of students in the Catholic school and Parish Religious Education Program (PREP), and the priests on administrative leave. Through the initiative, the archdiocese “continues a journey of honesty, healing and hope toward the restoration of trust,” the statement said.

The decisions by Archbishop Chaput follow a string of four similar previous announcements in which he ruled on 18 cases of priests placed on leave in March 2011, before his arrival in Philadelphia in September 2011.

Of the 18, eight priests were found suitable for ministry and nine priests were found unsuitable for ministry. In one additional case, the priest died before a full investigation could be conducted so it was not possible to reach a conclusion.

The archdiocese said all the cases were first reported to the appropriate local district attorney’s office so that law enforcement could investigate the matter and review it for possible criminal charges.

When criminal charges were not brought by the district attorney, the archdiocesan Office of Investigations began an investigation of each case. The results were submitted to the Archdiocesan Professional Responsibility Review Board. The 12-member board comprising men and women with extensive professional backgrounds in the investigation and treatment of child sexual abuse assesses allegations of sexual abuse and violations of “The Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries.” The board makes recommendations on suitability for ministry to the archbishop, who makes the final decisions.

Among the 26 cases of priests placed on administrative leave announced in March 2011 following the grand jury report, only one remains unresolved. The case of the priest who the archdiocese did not identify was not announced with the others Sunday because the investigative process is not yet complete, the archdiocese said.

The matter was reported to the appropriate district attorney who last month decided not to press charges, according to the archdiocese, and the internal archdiocesan investigation continues.

The archdiocese encouraged anyone wishing to report a violation of “The Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries” to contact the archdiocesan Office for Investigations at 1-888-930-9010.

To report an allegation of sexual abuse, contact local law enforcement agency and/or the Office for Investigations.

The archdiocese said it recognized the public notice may be painful to victims of sexual violence. Victim services are available through the Victim Assistance Office of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at 1-888-800-8780 or philavac@archphila.org.



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