By Matthew Gambino

The Catholic Church in Philadelphia continues to reel in the wake of a Philadelphia grand jury’s Feb. 10 report on clergy sexual abuse and the subsequent arrest of current and former priests and a lay person in the Archdiocese.

Last weekend one of the priests named in the report, Msgr. William J. Lynn, was placed on administrative leave from his assignment as pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Downingtown. He was arrested on two charges of endangering the welfare of a child in connection with his role as the former archdiocesan vicar for clergy. He remains free on bail until his trial date, which has not been set.{{more}}

Msgr. Lynn remains pastor of the parish even as Msgr. Joseph C. McLoone, pastor of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Chester, assumes the duties of leading St. Joseph’s as parochial administrator. (See page two for more clerical changes.)

Initiatives announced last week by the Archdiocese in response to the report address some of its concerns. The efforts, according to archdiocesan officials, may also bolster the confidence of the Catholic faithful, which has been shaken since the report’s release.

One of the initiatives addressed a particular flashpoint of the report. It claimed 37 priests in the Archdiocese remain in active ministry despite what the grand jury found to be evidence of sexual abuse of minors.

The Archdiocese claimed there were no priests with credible allegations of abuse in active ministry on the day of the report’s release. But by Wednesday, Feb. 16, a new statement pledged a reexamition of all 37 cases and that three priests specifically named in the report would be prohibited from publicly exercising their priestly ministry until latest review was complete.

“Change begins with action,” the statement from the Archdiocese read. “The grand jury report makes it clear that for as much as the Archdiocese has done to address child sexual abuse, there is still much to do. The actions we announce today build on the changes that the Church has already announced” Feb. 11, according to the statement.

One of those initiatives was to create a new position titled delegate for investigations. The person, when hired, will continue the current practice of immediately forwarding every allegation of abuse to the appropriate county district attorney.

The position is unrelated to the reexamination of the 37 cases.

That effort will be led for the Archdiocese by Gina Maisto Smith, a former city assistant district attorney with long experience prosecuting child sexual assault cases who now practices law privately.

As she reviews the 37 cases mentioned in the grand jury report, she “will also reexamine the procedures that were used in those cases,” she said during an interview Feb. 17.

“I will then make recommendations from that examination and other evidence that emerges in that process. There may be things that I don’t know now that haven’t yet emerged.”

Smith is a secular lawyer. But because priests and Church policy is involved, canon or Church law is certain to become a consideration in the cases she reviews.

She foresees the possibility of “a moment in time when those things are at odds,” she said, adding she would work closely on such issues with Auxiliary Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, a canon law expert and civil lawyer.

Smith said if a conflict between her recommendation and one based on canon law arose, she would not recommend a course favoring canon law “because that fits into the ‘using something else’ to cover up” possible indications of sexual abuse or misconduct.

“So to the extent we could have some way to see through that conflict, we’ll do our best to reconcile our efforts with canon law to ensure the protection of children,” Smith said.

Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia Daniel Thomas also discussed the fallout of the grand jury report Feb. 17.

“The first reality is, victims are suffering,” he said. “As a result of that the Cardinal made mention in his letter (to all parishioners on Feb. 12) from St. Paul, ‘when one member of the body suffers, all suffer.'”

He suggested not only victims of sexual abuse are suffering at this time, but so too are the ranks of priests from which much of the abuse has come.

The “faithful majority” of priests, he said, serve parishioners “with dedication, fidelity and with great sincerity.” He added that for these priests, “the suffering is that victims could be harmed and that a brother priest could be involved.”

Another cause of anguish among priests, the bishop said, “is because priests are called to represent the person of Jesus Christ. They are called to that higher moral standard. It’s not that they are placed on a pedestal but because that is what is required of them by their office in the Church.”

Bishop Thomas said he has heard that a number of archdiocesan priests are struggling to cope at this time, but he also has heard encouraging reports.

At one parish last Sunday, he said, the pastor confronted the issue in his homily with sensitivity and sincerity, then led the entire congregation in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament before continuing Mass.

Bishop Thomas has heard from “priests who have been supported by their faithful, who are saying we stand by you, we love and together we will get through this difficulty,” he said.

He acknowledged many Catholics may be experiencing a crisis of confidence in the Church’s initiatives.

“It’s incumbent (on the Church) to get to the root of the issue,” he said, “and to put in place those actions that are going to address any of the behaviors which are both sinful and criminal.”